Evaluate sources

Research results are often presented in scientific journals or at conferences. In some subject areas, it’s common for research results to be presented in monographs.

Primary sources and secondary sources

You should preferably use primary sources to the research results that you potentially want to cite, and avoid secondary sources as much as possible. A primary source can be for example an original article in a scientific journal, a conference paper, a research report or a dissertation. Textbooks (written for purely educational purposes) are generally not primary sources. This is also the case when it comes to popular scientific publications.

Peer Review

Research results are often published in articles in scientific journals, which provide explicit guidelines for what kind of research is published in the particular journal, and how submitted manuscripts are reviewed by experts. This is usually called peer review or refereeing. The review procedure is usually described on journal homepages. You can use the database Ulrichsweb to find out if a particular journal is refereed.

In many databases, it is possible to limit the search to articles from journals that have peer review.  Just be aware that although the journal has a review procedure, some parts of the journal might be excluded from that procedure, like letters or editorial material.

Other research publications, such as doctoral dissertations, and some conference papers, are also subject to similar requirements. Conference homepages often provide information about which papers that have been peer reviewed and contain new research results.

Structure of scientific documents, IMRaD

In many research areas, scientific documents are usually structured according to IMRaD - Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion. This structure is reflected in the disposition and the headings.

Introduction

The introduction in an academic paper is meant to swiftly and clearly introduce the topic of the report. In addition to this, there are usually concept definitions and a basis for problem statements inspired by previous research. Potential theories which provide a basis for research limitations and perspectives may also be introduced before the presentation of the actual investigation. A clear aim is an important part of the paper. The aim (objectives) briefly points at expected conclusions of the report. The aim is usually followed by one or several specific research questions.

Method

This section contains justifications for, and descriptions of, the procedures that lead to some kind of results. Whether the paper is based on some form of empirical studies (interviews, surveys, observations, measurements ...) or accounts for a systematic review of previous research, it should contain a section on method. If the paper accounts for a systematic literature review, there should be a description of the information seeking procedure.

Results

The methods applied guide data gathering and analysis which produce some kind of results. The results provide answers to the questions which have been stated in the paper. Depending on what kind of investigation has been made, the results section may e.g. contain tables, diagrams, images or quotations from interviews.

Discussion

The ultimate goal of research – new knowledge and new insights – is usually achieved through a discussion based on the results.

References and appendices

Throughout an academic paper there are explicit references to all the sources that have been used. Every published source (books, articles, conference papers etc.) which is cited in the text should be included in a reference list at the end of the paper. In the end of the paper, potential appendices can be found. 

Source criticism

To consider source of information, publisher, author, purpose, content and date of publication is also good to do when you read a document and are about to decide whether it is a reliable source or not. More information about source criticism. 

Facts from other sources

Facts which you may have to reproduce are not always the product of scientific investigations. Non-scientific facts as well should never the less be evaluated regarding reliability and usefulness. It is thus wise to keep more general guidelines for source criticism in mind.

Student

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