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Engineering: Reliable sources and peer review

Reliable sources and peer-review

Peer-reviewed journal articles are usually considered the most reliable sources. Therefore, such sources are sought after for project work. But what is peer-review?

Peer-review is a quality process that articles in scholarly journals must undergo:

  • Editors and publishers of scholarly journals seek out experts, so-called peer-reviewers, to read through and assess how the subject is presented, methods, academic context, and reference use in the article.
  • Peer-reviewers are always experts in the same field as the author of the article in question.
  • Peer-reviewers submit comments that the author must comply with to have his or her article published in that particular journal.
  • After an author has re-submitted his or her article then either further comments are made, the article is approved for publication, or the article is rejected
  • Usually, more than one peer-reviewer assesses each article, and the author of an article is not informed about who reviews his or her article, nor are peer-reviewers given the name of the author.
  • Peer-reviewers never receive payment for their work

​There are reliable sources besides peer-reviewed journal, for example, books and web pages.

Books of a general nature are not peer-reviewed. Academic books, such as textbooks, are in most instances written by experts in the pertinent field and are therefore considered reliable sources. Such books undergo a quality process at publishers where one or more editors manage the publication of the book and give recommendations on what can be improved. University presses, such as the University of Iceland Press, Oxford University Press, and Yale University Press, send book manuscripts of scholarly books to peer-reviewers (see for example peer-review process at Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press), but the peer-review of books usually differs from that of articles in scholarly journals. It can also be difficult to find out whether individual books have been peer-reviewed, but as was previously mentioned, a certain quality process is in place at most university presses and other publishers of academic or scholarly books books.

Websites are not peer-reviewed sources and not all of them fall under the definition of being reliable sources. Websites hosted by public institutions should, however, in most instances qualify as reliable sources.

The following criteria are often used to assess the reliability of websites as sources:

Reliable party

  • Who is the author of the material? Can the author be contacted—is, for example, the e-mail address of the person available?
  • Does the author have expert knowledge in this particular field - is the author, for example, a specialist at the institution that hosts the web page?
  • Has the author written more on the material? Google the author, search for his or her name in library systems.
  • Note that you must distinguish between the editor of a web page and the author of published material.
  • Who publishes the web page, that is, who hosts the web page? Is it a reliable party?
  • Look at the first part of the URL, i.e. www.???.?? Is it an individual,  a university, an institution,  a professional association, a company ...?
  • Also look at the endings of the address. Does it end in ...
    • .gov (governmental entity)
    • .edu (educational institution)
    • .org (organisation – an institution or organisation that receives no financial gain from its operations)
    • .com (commercial entity – business and/or services)

Unbiased discussion

  • What is the purpose of the website? Is it to sell, educate, express an opinion, publish facts, news ...?
  • How detailed is the information presented?
  • Is the discussion one-sided or is the material discussed from more than one point of view? Does the language show signs of prejudice? Does the information on the web page conform to other sources on the same subject?

New information

  • When was the website created?
  • When was the website last updated?
  • Are the links on the website active?
  • Do the links lead to “good/reliable” websites and do they add anything to the material on the website?

Journal articles on the internet (found using search engines, such as Google or Google Scholar) may or may not be peer-reviewed. Try to find out in what journal the article in question has appeared. Examine the website of the journal (the company that publishes the journal), paying most attention to “Submission guidelines” or “Information for authors” where it is specified what quality process articles published in that particular journal must undergo. You can also search for the journal in question on our journal search page and see whether the journal is peer-reviewed or not.