Research Methods

to support students enrolled in RES701

Week 8 Finding and recognising academic literature

Today we will begin looking at one of the most ‘credible’ sources of information – relevant academic articles (also called papers).   I will look at what is an academic article later but first of all why do we do this? There a number of reasons:

  • It is important to find out what other, more knowledgeable people have said about the area
  • It is important to find the most ‘credible’ information which will often (but not always!) be in academic literature
  • It is important for you to ground your work in work that others have done ( no one expects you to come up with a completely original idea)
  • It is important to look at the kind of research approach that others have taken to see if this would be useful for you
  • It is important to understand how others have applied the research approach to learn how to do it well – this may mean following their guidelines or ensuring that you don’t make the same mistakes
  • It is useful to see what questions others have left unanswered.  There may be room for you to pick up one of those questions yourself.

So what do we mean by an ‘academic article’?  Before the internet, it was reasonably straightforward to identify such articles (or ‘papers’) as they would generally be published either in specialised research journals or books, or in the proceedings of academic conferences.  Of course, this still happens and often their abstracts are freely available online.  However, a number of the publishers charge you a fee to read the complete paper. You will find that using the NMIT online library databases will give you a much better chance of finding complete papers as  NMIT pays to have access to those which are listed on these databases.

Of course, on the internet you will also find a large number of papers or articles that are not considered to be academic, these could be newspaper articles, articles from practitioner journals, blog postings, vanity publishing, white papers from companies such as Microsoft or IBM among others.  These can often have useful information but are not always ‘valid’ as research and are often biased.

There are also things which fall in between the two – papers such as university working papers, individually published work by academics (on a blog perhaps).  Again these can be useful but you will need to be clear about whether they are really useful as a basis for your research by looking at some of the criteria below.

So how can you tell what is academic or not and why does it matter?  Generally, if you have searched on NMIT’s online library databases or used an academic search engine like Google Scholar or Advanced Google Scholar, the results you find will be academic.  This is because they have already screened out the non-academic work – they have done some of the hard work for you already!  However, if you are still not sure you can usually tell by looking at the criteria below.

Usually, an academic paper will be reporting on research of some kind and will have been peer-reviewed (that means it has been assessed as useful by other academics).   Most academic papers are also written to a very similar structure which not only makes it easier to read but also easier to work out what kind of article it is.

The main components of an academic paper are:

  • the title
  • the authors (usually with an email address and affiliation)
  • the abstract
  • the introduction
  • a review of other papers relevant to the topic ( a literature review)
  • a description of what the research was and what the researchers did
  • the results of what they did
  • a discussion about what the results mean
  • a conclusion
  • a list of references

If the paper you find does not have an abstract and/or has no references, it is very unlikely to be an academic article.

The notes will be available here.


April 11, 2017 - Posted by | Class Work, General

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