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Legal Research Skills

What are Academic or scholarly sources?

The library provides access to thousands of journal titles, both print and electronic. Electronic databases of full text articles come via publishers who gather together the contents of thousands of journals. This makes searching and identifying relevant material across a span of years easier, but does not lessen the need to guage the 'worthiness' of individual articles.

Academic writing is not confined to journals. Non-textbook academic sources such as monographs and books of edited readings can contribute to the development of your ideas and some research literature is openly available on the internet. Applying evaluation measures will enable you to recognise acceptable sources.

Academic (or scholarly)

Academic (scholarly) writing seeks to clarify, explain and extend concepts belonging to the topic and discipline. It is usually impersonal and objective.

Academic works include:

  • journal articles
  • monographs
  • books of edited readings
  • conference papers
  • working papers
  • theses

Peer reviewed (refereed) articles

Your assignments will often require you to use information from academic journal articles that are peer reviewed (or “refereed”). 
Peer review- 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 an article 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 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, or ask the Library.

Be criticially aware when researching

Publications that meet these criteria are often academic:

  • peer reviewed
  • published / edited by a university or scholarly society
  • the author is from a university or scholarly society
  • reports research
  • contains a bibliography and references other works
  • written by more than one author
  • the paper was presented at a conference, particularly an international conference, and definitely if the papers were peer reviewed

Articles from these publications are usually NOT academic:

  • newspapers
  • magazines and trade journals
  • newsletters
  • journals published weekly or more frequently very short articles (eg one or two pages)
  • articles without a bibliography

BUT, there are no absolute rules! Exercise critical judgement!

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