When researching for reports 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" refers to the quality of a written work which seeks to clarify, explain and extend concepts belonging to the topic and discipline. An equivalent term is "scholarly".
Academic works include: journal articles, textbooks, books of edited readings, conference papers, working papers and theses.
Your lecturers will often require that in assignments you use information from academic journal articles that are peer reviewed (an alternative term is 'refereed').
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.
Some journal databases may allow you to limit your search to just peer reviewed articles.
If you are unsure whether a particular journal is peer-reviewed, check the database, Ulrichsweb : global serials directory 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depending on the discipline, there can be many published scholarly and academic journals and conference papers that are not peer-reviewed, often due to the typically lengthy process involved.
Articles from these publications, or with the following characteristics, are often NOT academic:
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.
The following factors are characteristic of an academic articles, and especially those that are peer reviewed.
Abstract: The first page of an academic article usually includes an abstract (summary)
Length: They are usually substantial (eg at least 8 pages)
References: Extensive reference to past research is a key feature of academic works. References are recorded in footnotes or in a reference list at the end of the article.
Author affiliations and qualifications: Does the author hold a position in 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. In a monograph of readings there may be a separate section with brief details on the contributors.
Appearance and format: Academic articles are text based, and can include tables, figures and charts, but little other illustration or advertising. The body of the document is divided in to sections such as: Introduction; Literature Review; Methodology; Results; Discussion; Conclusion; References.
Voice: Academic works use the technical language of the particular discipline. The writer assumes some 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, or included in the unit reading list?