Here's what's involved in the lengthy editorial review called "peer review." A professor or other expert submits their article to the editor of a journal in their field. For instance, a psychology professor might submit an article to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. A physicist would submit a paper to Applied Physics journal. The editors of these academic journals then ask the authors' peers - other professors or experts in this field - to evaluate the submitted articles. Those experts then submit their comments and reviews back to the editor, who returns them to the author, who answers the criticisms and rewrites portions of the article to satisfy his "peer" reviewers.
You can see why this editorial review would take months or years. This lengthy review process explains why peer-reviewed journals - also known as scholarly or academic journals - publish only two or four times a year. Your instructors want to know you can find peer-reviewed articles. This means using limiters to narrow your search results in databases to find these articles. Librarians can help you with this.
A student came to a librarian for help finding articles about "pet therapy" because he was disappointed in the results of his database search. Together the student and librarian discover that the terms "animal assisted therapy," "animal therapy" and "animal intervention" are indexed in the database along with "pet therapy." "Pet therapy" alone retrieved articles about treatment for animals that are pets, and also articles about PET, Positron Emission Tomography.
Once in the database, you will notice words and phrases filling in below what you are typing in the search field. This means that articles containing those subject terms (also called thesaurus terms) are in the database. Adding the related terms retrieved articles the student wanted; in fact, more than he could reasonably use.
The next challenge is refining your search. The student wanted to write about how animal assisted therapy was used to help veterans. That's where the Boolean operators, AND, NOT and OR, which are built into the database, will help. Using AND to add "veterans with PTSD" and using NOT to exclude PET scans, the student refined his search to articles for his paper.
His instructor also required peer-reviewed articles of recent research, often meaning limiting to the last five or ten years. Here is how you find those.
On the left-hand side of the page, you will see "Limit To" above small boxes next to Full Text and Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals and a slider bar with search fields for Publication Date.
Adding more specific search terms, using Boolean operators AND and NOT and limiters Full-Text, Peer-Reviewed and Publication Date netted this student 16 articles to read on his topic. The most important step is to allow yourself enough time to read the articles you find.
Don't be discouraged if your first few searches seem complicated or unsuccessful. Keep trying different search terms and allow enough time to peruse your results. Come to the library for help at the reference desk and ask your instructor if your class can have a class in the library classroom.