Biotechnology: Academic sources

Provides information and selected resources relevant to biotechnology

Checklist to help identify an academic article

The following factors are characteristic of academic articles, especially those that are peer reviewed. 

Evaluate the following;

Abstract?    The first page of an academic article usually includes an abstract (summary).

Length?    Academic articles are usually substantial works (eg: at least a few pages).

References?   Extensive reference to past research is a key feature of academic works. References are recorded in footnotes or in-text, and a reference list (bibliography) at the end of the article. Complete bibliographic information for all references used should be provided to enable readers to track down original work.

Author affiliations and qualifications and contact details are included.   Does the author work at a university or a recognised research organisation relevant to the discipline? Author information, often including contact details, is usually included on the first or final page of an article. Often an article has more than one author.  The authors' academic qualifications are also usually listed (eg: PhD, BSc (Hons), etc.).

Appearance and format ?   Academic articles are text based, and can include tables, photgraphs of results, figures and charts, but generally little other illustration or advertising. The body of the document is commonly divided in to sections such as: Introduction; Literature Review; Method; Results; Discussion; Conclusion; References, and may contain in-text or footnote references.

Voice?   Academic works use the formal technical language of the particular discipline. The writer assumes some specialist knowledge on the part of the reader.

Publisher ?   Is the publisher an academic publishing house, university, research organisation, professional body or other recognised authority producing research?

Recommendation?   Is it a journal recommended by your lecturer, supervisor or included in the unit reading list?

What are Academic Sources?

In researching for essays and other academic assignment tasks, you will usually be looking for relevant information in academic sources.

This section explains what an academic source is, and how to identify one, as well as the related concept of peer review.

Academic writing is not confined to journals. Non-textbook academic sources such as monographs and books of edited readings may contribute to the development of your ideas. And some research literature is openly available on the internet. Applying evaluation measures will enable you to recognise acceptable sources.

Some definitions

Academic (or scholarly)

The quality of a work of writing which seeks to clarify, explain and extend concepts belonging to the topic and discipline. Scholarly, or academic works are those considered authoritative, formal, intellectual, learned, objective, original, reasoned, technical, theoretical. Such works can include: journal articles, monographs, books of edited readings, conference papers, working papers and theses.

Peer reviewed (or refereed) articles

Peer review is a formal quality control process whereby a scholarly article submitted to a journal is evaluated by several recognised experts in that discipline. These “referees” judge whether it makes a sufficient contribution to knowledge in the discipline and is of a sufficient standard to justify publication. Academic book manuscripts and many conference papers are also commonly peer reviewed. Peer review can be a lengthy process, causing some delay between completion of research and formal publication of results.

Some journal databases may allow you to limit your search results to just peer reviewed articles. If you are unsure whether a particular journal is peer-reviewed/refereed, check the database or ask the Library.

Note: Depending on the discipline, there can be many published scholarly and academic journals and conference papers that are not peer-reviewed, often due to the typically lengthy process involved.

Primary vs Secondary sources

A Primary source is one where the author has been directly involved in the research undertaken and published. Academic journals generally report primary research. Secondary sources contain articles reporting on another's research. Scientific American for example reports on recent research rather than publishing that research directly. While using such a reference may still be relevant for some purposes, it would be considered a secondary source article.

Citing and the Bibliography

The documentation of the evolution of ideas is a fundamental process in academic research. Citing any reference referred to and providing a Bibliography of sources used allows the reader to examine those sources in order to decide for themselves on the validity of the conclusions drawn.

It is also crucial to acknowledge in your work the source of information and ideas drawn from other authors. Failure to do so, and passing them off as your own, is considered 'plagiarism'. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and more information can be found at 'Avoiding Plagiarism'


Examples of non-academic works:

Articles from these publications, or with the following characteristics, are often NOT considered academic:

  • newspapers
  • magazines and trade journals
  • newsletters
  • journals published weekly or more frequently (although significant exceptions include Nature and Science)
  • very short articles (eg one or two pages)
  • articles that have no bibliography (a prominent exception is Harvard Business Review)

BUT, there are no absolute rules! Exercise critical judgement. It is often appropriate and necessary to also refer to non-academic publications in an assignment. Be guided by the set requirements for the particular assignment. If in doubt about the suitability of a particular article for an assignment task, ask your lecturer.