Women's & Gender Studies: Academic sources

The Monash University Library Subject Guide for Women's & Gender studies.

Peer reviewed, academic, scholarly? Is this resource suitable?

The library provides access to thousands of journal (periodical) titles, both print and electronic. Electronic databases of full text articles come via publishers who aggregate the contents of thousands of journals. Effectively, journal issues are dismembered, digitised and reassembled. This makes for easier searching and identification of relevant material across a span of years. But the absence of the customary navigation aids eg tables of contents, layout, fonts (unless .pdf), general look, feel, smell, etc, can make it difficult to guage the 'worthiness' of individual articles.

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

...as in writing. Quality of a work which seeks to clarify, explain and extend concepts belonging to the topic and discipline. Features of academic works include any or all of the following: authoritative, formal, intellectual, learned, objective, original, reasoned, technical, theoretical
...as in employment. A scholar associated with a university. An adequate output of peer reviewed literature is a requirement for progression as an academic employee
Synonomous with 'academic'
peer reviewed
Synonomous with 'refereed'. Peer review is a formal process whereby any article submitted to a journal or conference is sent to several established scholars in that field of study. These scholars may suggest improvements before deciding if the article should be published or included in the conference. It is a common practice in academic disciplines and some professions. Peer reviewed articles are authoritative because they have been judged, by specialists or experts within academic and / or industry fields, to offer important insights / findings / knowledge about an issue / debate / discipline.

Peer review can be a lengthy process so peer reviewed commentary on current events may be difficult to locate. Note that there are many quite scholarly or academic journals and conferences that are not peer reviewed.

primary sources
These could be, for example, Hansard, court documents, manuscripts, patents, etc. They are the record of someone who not only was there but was directly involved. An account from the frontline of a field of endeavour could be a valuable resource (eg paper by company CEO, journalist on the ground in a war zone) but may not qualify as a scholarly resource. You may need to perform other checks to establish whether primary sources are acceptable eg ask the lecturer
Synonomous with 'peer reviewed'

Scholarly journal v. Popular magazine

Sometimes lecturers insist students locate and use information only from scholarly or peer reviewed journals. Use the library databases to search the journals specified by the lecturer in the unit outline. Some databases allow searches to be limited to peer reviewed or refereed material. Use this function with caution as acceptable scholarly resources may be excluded. Some quite scholarly journals and conferences are not peer reviewed. Also, even though a journal title has 'peer review' status, it does not mean that every piece of the publication will have been peer reviewed eg editorial opinion pieces, book reviews, short news articles, etc. This means you need to carefully examine each article. Evaluating resources is a necessary part of the research process and requires critical thinking skills.

Check journal peer review status

To establish definitively whether a particular journal title is peer reviewed or refereed the university uses specific tools, for example, Ulrichsweb.com

To determine the ranking of journal titles, these are used:

These help determine the quality of staff publication output when reporting to government. Funding to universities is allocated partly on the outcome of these measures.

Why is a bibliography so important?

The documentation of the evolution of ideas is a fundamental process in academic research. A bibliography shows the sources used by the writer. The reader can examine those sources in order to decide for themselves the validity of the conclusions presented. Sources that come from scholarly and peer reviewed publications would suggest that the article or conference paper might be a worthy contribution to the body of knowledge in that field.

Failure to acknowledge the source of ideas and passing them off as your own is 'plagiarism'. Plagiarism is defined as taking, using, and passing off as your own, the ideas or words of another. It is a serious academic offence and can result in your work being failed automatically. The best way to avoid it is to take careful notes of where you found your information, and to always acknowledge the work of others ie finish your essays with a bibliography.

Bibliographies from books, articles and conference papers are also a useful source of further references to use when writing essays and theses.


Literature that meets these criteria is often academic:

  • the publication is peer reviewed
  • the publication is published / edited by a university or scholarly society
  • the author of the article is from a university or scholarly society
  • the publication reports research
  • the publication contains a bibliography and references other works
  • the publication is written by more than one author
  • the paper was presented at a conference, particularly an international conference, and definitely if the papers were peer reviewed

Articles from these publications are often NOT 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

BUT, there are no absolute rules! Exercise critical judgement!

Quality analysis checklist

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

Analyse the references you locate Yes No
Check for:
Academic articles usually start with an Abstract (summary) and end with a Reference list (Bibliography). The original print and then digitised version of an article may include an author provided abstract.(This is not always the same as the database providers abstract).
Reference list or bibliography?
The reference list is usually extensive and may run to several pages. Is complete bibliographic information for all cited references provided?
Author affiliation and qualifications?
Is the author affiliated to a university, eg Professor? If so you may assume the journal has some academic credibility. Are the authors' academic qualifications listed, PhD, B.Sc, etc.? The authors' affiliation and qualifications may be found at the beginning of the article near the title or at the end of the article as an endnote. In a monograph of readings there may be a separate section with brief details on the contributors.
Text based, minimal use of unnecessary illustration. Advertising is limited to scholarly or academic products and services, eg an upcoming conference, new books in the discipline, etc.
The body of the document is divided into sections such as Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, Reference List. Tables, figures and charts may be included. May contain in-text (footnote) references.
Uses technical language (jargon) and reports research. The language used is that of the discipline covered. The writer assumes some knowledge and background on the part of the reader.
Academic articles are usually substantial, eg 10 or more pages.
Often the publisher can give you a clue as to the academic status of the document. For example, are they a university, professional organisation or other recognised authority producing research? Is the journal from a large academic publishing house eg Carfax, Sage, etc.
Is this from a journal title specified by the lecturer in the unit outline?