Medical imaging and radiation sciences: Identifying academic sources

Guide to information resources and services for Medical imaging and radiation sciences

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?    

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 (or scholarly)

The quality of a work of writing which seeks to clarify, explain and extend concepts belonging to the topic and discipline. An equivalent term is “scholarly”.  Academic works include: journal articles, monographs, books of edited readings, conference papers, working papers and theses.

Peer reviewed (or refereed) articles

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/refereed, check the database, Ulrichsweb.com 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.

Examples of non-academic works

Articles from these publications, or with the following characteristics, 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.  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.

Checklist for identifying an academic article

The following factors are characteristic of 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?

Evaluating sources activity

This Evaluating the reliability of sources tutorial will enable you to identify the key features of good quality academic sources.
Approximate time required - 15 minutes.

Quick guide to peer review

This quick guide to peer review provides a basic explanation of what peer review is, why it matters, and how to recognise peer reviewed sources.

Approximate time required - 5 minutes

Link to the first slide of the online tutorial 'What is Peer Review'. Click on to access this tutorial.

Evaluating internet research

Learn how to determine the quality of research on the internet with this online tutorial.