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Peer Review

This guide will help you understand what a peer-reviewed article is, how to find them, and how to identify them "in the wild".

Scholarly & Peer-reviewed Books

Can a book be peer-reviewed? 

The short answer is that peer review, as discussed in this guide, is a publishing process of academic journals and isn't typically applied to other types of sources, such as books. 

However, there are always exceptions.

Some textbooks and scholarly books do have a more formal editorial process that is much like the peer review seen in academic journals. Peer-reviewed books can be challenging to identify. This page will help you identify scholarly books (as opposed to those aimed at a more general consumer or layperson) and textbooks, as well as provide some clues to help identify those that might be peer-reviewed. 

What is a Scholarly Book?

There are lots of different types of books, and you may be assigned a variety of types as required readings. When choosing to use a book as a research source, knowing if it's scholarly or not is important. Here are some key indicators that your book is scholarly in nature. 

  • Author's credentials - Authors of scholarly books tend to be highly educated, the same as we would expect the authors of scholarly journals. Look for credentials showing higher education and/or affiliation with educational or teaching institutions such as universities and colleges. 
  • Publisher - Specialized publishing houses that produce academic journals such as Elsevier, SAGE, and Wiley are a few that might point toward a scholarly publication; University presses (i.e., University of Toronto Press, University of Manitoba, Athabasca University Press, etc.) that are publishing the works of their academics and in-house-made textbooks are another that will indicate the sources is very likely a scholarly publication.
  • Peer review - Peer-reviewing books is not a common practice. However, there are exceptions. In most cases, these books are either textbooks and/or have been published by university presses (here is some more information from the National University Library). Investigating the publishing standards for a press or looking for a review of the book in a scholarly journal may help you understand if the book has been put through a peer review process.
  • Sources - Scholarly books will contain reference and bibliography lists; within these lists, you should find scholarly sources, either other scholarly books and/or peer-reviewed journal articles. 
  • Topic and Quality - as with academic journal articles, readers can expect a certain level of quality, expertise and specialized topics when reading scholarly books. 

What makes a textbook different than a scholarly book?

Any type of book can be used as a "course textbook" or required reading; this section talks about the format of the textbook.

When trying to differentiate the difference between a scholarly book and a textbook, it's a bit more challenging. Many websites and online sources state that textbooks are purely educational, focusing on a particular academic subject, and falling firmly into non-fiction, but all that is true for scholarly sources as well. So what makes them different? Here are some key indicators that you have a textbook. 

  • Scholarly - Textbooks are scholarly publications, so they should meet all the criteria listed above for a scholarly book, but they have some unique characteristics, as we see below.
  • Authors - textbooks are often written by teams of highly educated academics.
  • Publisher - they will typically be written by known producers of textbooks such as McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson, Cengage Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Wolters Kluwer, and others. They may also be written by a University press. Many schools publish their own textbooks written by their resident faculty. 
  • Editions - textbook publishers often publish new editions of textbooks every few years; sometimes, they will create regional-specific editions, i.e. First Canadian Edition, dealing with content specific to that region.
  • Content organization - Textbooks are meant for the study of a topic; as such, they are typically organized in a logical and expanding way with the expectation of use by a student to learn the subject.
  • Questions - One of the most defining aspects of a textbook that isn't seen in other scholarly types of sources is it will contain questions, tests, practice exercises, and opportunities for reflection and discussion. Textbooks very often have accompanying study guides, answer keys, and/or instructor guides.


Are Open Educational Resources considered textbooks? 

You can find out more information about OERs and Open Textbooks here. OERs take many forms, including scholarly and textbook formats. Review the above criteria to determine if your OER is a textbook, scholarly book, or another type of resource. 

Some answers from other libraries