Biotechnology: Academic sources

Provides information and selected resources relevant to biotechnology

Analyse the quality of your sources

How detailed is the content and how long is it?
Scholarly work is usually several pages long and includes a lot of in-depth information and analysis.

Is there an argument/thesis running through the work?
Are there claims the research is trying to prove, or conclusions and recommendations made if it's a report?

Are the authors' details provided on the source?
Are the authors experts in the field – do they have quality credentials (e.g. Ph.D., M.D., etc.) in relevant disciplines?

Are they associated with a university or college?
Do they have any biases, such as working in the industry they are writing about?

Who published the source? Was it a university or another scholarly institution (e.g. Journal of the American Medical Association)?

If it’s a journal article, was it published in a peer-reviewed journal? Remember to check the status of the journal on Ulrichsweb.
Take the quick guide to peer review for more information on peer review.

Is the publisher objective or biased? Do they want to influence and/or sell to you?
For example, publications from the clean energy industry would be vastly different to those from the mining industry.

Is the source aimed at experts in the field or the general public?

Does the author write as if the reader already knows about the topic? Do they use specialised language and do they write with a serious, informative tone?
Or are they trying to entertain or to sell a product rather than inform?

Publications written for the general public tend not to be scholarly.
With newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites, the audience is usually the general public.

Examine the title of the source. How detailed is it?

Scholarly sources usually have very specific titles.
For example, "Genetically Modified Crops and Risk Assessment in the UK," is more specific than "Multinational Companies Unite to Fight Bribery."

Is the format plain and simple – lots of writing, not too many images? If images are included, are they used to inform the reader rather than to entertain?

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Quality analysis checklist

Analyse the references you locate

The more marks in the 'Yes' column, the more likely the article or paper is to be acceptable for academic purposes.

  Yes No

1 Source of Content:

A. Are sources cited or references provided in the source? This means parenthetical in-text citations or footnotes are provided, indicating where information and ideas were taken from and an extensive reference list is provided at the end of the source. If sources are not cited, stop! A source without references is not a scholarly source.    
B. Is the source an in-depth treatment of its subject (usually several pages long with a lot of detailed information and in-depth analysis)?    
C. Does the source have a thesis or argument or claim it’s trying to prove, or (if it's a report of scientific research) a conclusion drawn from the research? Most scholarly sources have a claim they are trying to prove, or a conclusion drawn from the research.    
D. Does the source incorporate original research? Most scholarly sources are a combination of original research and analysis of earlier research, though in some cases they just review or summarize or analyze earlier research.    

2. Information about the publisher of the source:

A. Is the source published by a college or university, or by a scholarly professional organization (For example, Journal of the American Medical Association, or American Quarterly, published by the American Studies Association, an interdisciplinary association of scholars who study American culture)    
B. If your source is an article, is the journal it was published in peer-reviewed or refereed by other experts in the field?    
C. Is the title of the source descriptive and specific? Scholarly sources usually have more informative titles than non-scholarly sources. An example of a very specific title might be "Understanding the social context of violent and aggressive incidents on an inpatient unit," whereas an example of a general title might be "The Medicated Child."    
D. Is the title of the source specialized? Titles of scholarly sources are usually addressed to specialized audiences. An example of a specialized title might be "Genetically Modified Crops and Risk Assessment in the UK," whereas a nonspecialized title might be "Multinational Companies Unite to Fight Bribery."    

3. The authors of the source:

A. Is the author a scholar/expert/specialist in the field? Does the author have an advanced degree? Scholarly sources are usually written by people with advanced degrees in their field. Degrees are often listed after the author's name (Ph.D., M.D.,  M.A., etc.). Journals often provide descriptions of the author's credentials at the start of the source or in a separate "Notes on Contributors" section.    
B. Is the author affiliated with a college or university? Scholarly sources are usually written by professors at colleges or universities. Authors' affiliations are often listed at the beginning of the source, right after the author's name.    
C. Have the authors declared any conflict of interest or bias? For example, a conflict of interest would be a person who wrote an source on the benefits of smoking, but works for a tobacco company.    

4. The audience of the source:

A. Is the source addressed to other specialists in the field? Scholarly sources are usually addressed to other specialists in the field. This might take the form of assuming the reader knows what the issues, debates, controversies or questions in the field are.    
B. Does the author of the source write as if the reader already knows the basics of the topic? Scholarly sources usually assume familiarity with the topic. This might take the form of mentioning names, titles, or ideas as though the reader already knows who or what they are.    

5. The language and appearance of the source:

A. Is the language of the source specialized? Does it use technical vocabulary or concepts? Scholarly sources usually use specialized or technical language.    
B. Is the tone of the source serious, written to inform or persuade, not to entertain or amuse?     
C. Does the source, and the journal in which it appears, consist mainly of large blocks of text, with few graphics or other visual elements to break it up? Most scholarly sources are primarily text, unless they include graphics whose purpose is to convey information, such as charts and graphs.    
D. Is the format plain and simple?    
E. Are the graphics included to inform rather than entertain?