Choosing scholarly and reliable sources

tekijä: Liisa Hannele Halttunen-Keyriläinen Viimeisin muutos tiistai 10. tammikuuta 2017, 13.22

When seeking scientific information, it is important to valuate materials critically. Academic writing is a dialogue between you, your information sources and, broadly speaking, the scientific community. By using scientific and reliable sources you indicate that you understand that what you do is part of the scientific discussion in your field. The sources that you use indicate the kind of scientific conversation that you take part in and reflect your understanding on a topic. In other words, the information sources of your choice are a way to show the reader what you know about a subject. Your skills to evaluate sources will improve as you become more familiar with your subject and academic discipline.

Use these general guidelines and the table below to determine what kind of sources you need to seek.

  • Source criticism, which means the assessment of information sources, is a prerequisite of academic work.
  • When seeking scholarly articles, it is recommended that you use databases.
  • Still, in many databases the scientific level of material varies, that is, most databases contain both scientific and non-scientific articles.
  • Scholarly articles are usually peer-reviewed articles. Many databases allow you to limit your search results to peer-reviewed/scholarly articles. This is often the easiest way to find scholarly articles. Not all academic sources are peer-reviewed, though.
  • If you choose to use Google/Google Scholar for academic purposes, remember to be extremely careful with the source criticism.

      Is the Source Scientific and Reliable?

      Scientific journals are also called scholarly journals or academic journals.

      • Scientific texts usually have a similar general structure (IMRD)
        • Introduction, theoretical background and research questions
        • Methods and materials used
        • Results, answers to the research questions
        • Discussion of the results and their implications
      • Scientific texts have references and a bibliography.

      • Scientific articles are usually peer-reviewed. Many databases let you limit your search results to peer-reviewed articles.

      • Note that if you want to know if a specific article is scholarly or not, you'll often have to find out about the journal where it is published.

      Ways to verify the scientific level of journals and serial publications:

      • The Publication Forum classifies the scientific level of international and Finnish journals. Level 1 journals are basic scholarly journals. Level 2 and 3 journals are top level scholarly journals. Most scholarly journals are level 1 journals. All levels (1–3) are fine as information sources. If a journal isn’t classified as level 1, 2 or 3 or not listed at all, it may not be scientific. The classification is made by Finnish groups of researchers from different fields.
        • Book publishers are also classified in the Publication Forum to help evaluate books as scientific sources.
        • Journals with levels 1, 2 or 3 are usually journals that publish peer-reviewed articles.
        • In some cases you may also need to use your own discretion. For example sometimes publications by universities are not listed as belonging to any level but they may still be scholarly.
      • Ulrichsweb is an international database for information on journals and serial publications. Search for a journal's information in Ulrichsweb and find out if the journal publishes peer-reviewed articles or not.
      • In general, you can trust the quality of top journals that are valued most in their fields, and the publications of respected scientific publishers. To find out about the top journals and respected scientific publishers in your field, you can e.g. use the Publication Forum.
      • Journals usually indicate on their webpages if they are scientific or other publications. You can mostly trust this, but some journals are so called predatory journals and may just claim to be scientific when in fact they are not. Predatory publishers are listed for example in the Beall's List and the predatory journals they publish are listed in the Publication Forum.
        Peer-reviewing and the Referee Process of Scholarly Journals

        Peer-reviewed, or refereed articles and publications are at the highest scientific level.

        In a referee process, the scientific level of an article is assessed not only by the editors of the publication but also by external experts in the field, selected by the editors. After the peer-reviewing process, the article can be accepted to be published in a scholarly journal.

        Ways to find out if a journal is peer-reviewed:

        • Journal-specific descriptions in the Ulrichsweb database.
        • Checking if the journal is level 1, 2 or 3 in the Publication Forum.
        • Homepages of publications, for example, instructions for writers.
        Checklist of a Source Critic
        • Is there information on the author, background organization and publisher?
        • Does the document include a list of references?
        • How old is the material? If there are plenty of publications on your topic, it's usually sensible to start from the latest material. In many fields, a document is considered out-of-date if it's more than ten years old, but it depends on your research field and topic.
        • Whenever possible, use the original source, not someone else’s citation or interpretation of it. Older printed materials may need to be ordered through the interlibrary loan service.
        • Note that evaluating open online resources is particularly important, because their contents are not controlled in any way.
        • If you doubt the scientific level of your source, discuss the matter with your teacher or search for new sources.
        • A graduation thesis seldom reaches the level of research made by a scientific expert, so avoid using graduation theses as sources. Check their bibliographies instead!
        • Find more information on the differences of scientific and non-scientific material, for example on the Scholarly Resources site of the University of Texas.



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