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Researching and Referencing: Academic Skills

This guide provides support to staff and students on research skills, referencing, study and writing skills and digital literacy

What are Academic Sources of Information?

You may be asked to use information that is academic or scholarly. This information should be relevant, current and authoritative.

What is a journal?

Journals are similar to magazines as they are both published regularly (e.g. monthly), under the same title. Articles in journals are more in-depth and well-researched than magazine articles.

  • Journals contain articles relating to a specific subject area. They are written by experts and often report the author's research.
  • Academic journals are often called scholarly journals.
  • They are the most relevant for research purposes. Articles in academic journals are usually refereed. This process is also called peer reviewed.
  • Journals have a volume and/or issue numbers.
  • Many journal articles are only available online through journal databases. 
Why would I use an academic journal?

Journals are a source of current information and are a good way to keep up to date with research and developments in your subject area. They contain information that may never be published in books or on the web.

Advantages in using journal articles for your research:                                   
  • Currency - journals are published regularly so you can have access to the most up-to-date research findings as soon as they are published.

  • Authority - written by people with formal qualifications (academics, researchers, etc.) or subject specialists.

  • Scholarly or peer-reviewed - high quality research papers written by experts in the academic field.

  • Specificity - they contain information on a specific topic thus providing more in-depth knowledge on that topic.

  • References - contain a list of references that can be used to further develop a topic.

You may be asked to use information that is academic or scholarly. This information should be relevant, current and authoritative.

Books as academic sources
  • Academic sources, also called scholarly sources, are sources which can include books, academic journal articles, and published expert reports. The content in academic sources has usually been peer-reviewed, which means that it's been reviewed by experts on its topic for accuracy and quality before being published.
Are books a peer reviewed source?
  • "Peer review" is the editorial process that scholarly articles go through before they are published in a journal. Since books go through a different editorial process before publication, they aren't peer reviewed. They can be still be good scholarly or academic sources, though.
Advantages
  • Academic books contain authoritative information and this can include comprehensive accounts of research or scholarship, historical data, overviews, experts' views on themes/topics. Use a book when you require background information and related research on a topic, when you want to add depth to a research topic or put your topic in context with other important issues.
Disadvantages
  • It can take years, in some instances, to write and publish books, they are not always the best source for current topics.

You may be asked to use information that is academic or scholarly. This information should be relevant, current and authoritative.

Websites as academic sources
  • Academic sources, also called scholarly sources, are sources which can include books, academic journal article, and published expert reports. The content in academic sources has usually been peer-reviewed, which means that it's been reviewed by experts on its topic for accuracy and quality before being published.
But are websites a peer reviewed source?
  • "Peer review" is the editorial process that scholarly articles go through before they are published in a journal. Websites do not have an editorial process before the website is made available. Anyone can upload a website and control its content. Websites can still be good academic sources, though, if you carefully assess the content of the webpage.
  • Government websites and documents can be good sources as can websites from educational institutions such as universities and research centres. Some organisations will provide relevant information that is of an academic nature, just be sure to evaluate the information on their webpages.
Advantages‚Äč
  • Websites provide up-to-the-minute news and information about current events, trends, and controversial topics. They may also contain government publications such as reports, statistics, legislation and service information; interviews, newspaper articles; research reports; conference/workshops/symposium papers; maps and other types of resources.
Disadvantages
  • Because anyone can publish anything on the web, website information may be inaccurate or biased, and sometimes outdated. Only a very limited amount of scholarly information is available on the open web.

Government documents and government websites are generally considered authoritative, credible sources of information.  Many are scholarly, and some are even peer-reviewed!

  • But not all government documents are scholarly or peer-reviewed, though.  Government departments and agencies produce a wide range of publications, for different purposes. Some government documents and websites are intended to educate the general public, while others are technical reports written for professionals.  While the former are great for background information and/or study help, the latter are the kinds of publications that would be considered scholarly.
  • So, the type of government information you use will be dependent upon your assignment's instructions.

When in doubt, remember that scholarly publications:

  • Are written for researchers, scholars or professionals in the field. These will usually be lengthy, covering the topic in detail with plenty of technical language. 
  • Will strive to be accurate and unbiased.
  • Will always cite their sources.  A reference list is an indication of scholarly communication. 

Peer Review

What is peer review?

Reviewers play a central role in scholarly publishing. Peer review helps validate research, establish a method by which it can be evaluated, and increase networking possibilities within research communities.

Many databases provide an option to limit to peer review articles only.

Resources for Critical Thinking

Academic Skills Resources

Academic Integrity Resources

All students enrolled in TAFE NSW Higher Education courses are expected to conduct themselves honestly and ethically in their academic studies and must acknowledge the work of others in all their academic activities using appropriate referencing as advised by the course coordinator. Plagiarism, cheating including contract cheating, using smart devices during exams or failure to reference someone else's work is not tolerated and penalties are applied. Penalties for academic misconduct are serious. Students may receive a zero result for the assessment event, fail the subject, and/or be excluded from the course.

Turnitin can help you avoid plagiarism and can also assist with academic writing and information literacy. This online tool is available to TAFE Higher Education teachers and students only.

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