Academic literature

Academic literature

Academic or scholarly literature is written by and for researchers in a specific field, to share and discuss their own research findings, review or evaluate other research in that field, and introduce new hypotheses. It is structured, written and published in ways that enable other researchers to critically evaluate its quality for use in further research.

Academic literature is commonly published in journals or books. Some reference materials, such as research encyclopedias, can also be considered academic literature. 

Academic journals 

Academic journals publish a new selection of articles on a regular basis. To keep track of each selection, they are assigned a volume number (usually updated yearly) and an issue number (based on how many times the journal has been published that year). 

Academic journal articles are structured into distinct sections. These sections may vary depending on whether it is primary or secondary research, which discipline the work is from, and by the type of research undertaken. 

Learn more about the structure of academic journals.

Academic books 

Academic books include monographs, which are detailed overviews of a specific research area, often by one author; and edited books, which have different authors contributing to each chapter. They are usually published by academic publishers like university presses. 

Academic book chapters may be structured in a similar way to academic journal articles, or the overall book may include components you'd find in an academic journal article.

Content and writing style 

Because academic literature’s intended audience is other researchers in similar fields, it usually includes specialist or technical vocabulary. It also draws on and acknowledges other academic literature. 

Academic publications are written objectively, in a way that aims to minimise bias. While the authors can still present their own interpretation of research findings, their audience must be able to access the evidence they used and read other influencing theories or information for themselves. This is so that they can form their own opinions and test the quality of the author’s interpretation and research methodology. 

Features of academic literature include: 

  • clear and replicable methodology 
  • data for readers to verify the author’s findings 
  • consistent and appropriate use of citations and references. 

Learn more about referencing.

Before publication 

Academic publishers have specific editorial policies and review processes to ensure the quality of the work they publish. You can find these on journal and book press websites. 

Editorial policies include ethical and publication standards that need to be met for an academic work to be published. These include announcing conflicts of interest, ensuring research has been ethically conducted, and following data reporting standards. These policies also dictate how the editorial board responds to accusations of plagiarism, fraudulent behaviour or errors. 

A process called ‘peer review’ involves other experts in that field of research evaluating a work of academic literature before it is published. Rigorous peer review processes can improve the quality of published academic literature.

Learn more about peer review

After publication 

There is an ongoing process of research and review even after an academic journal or book is published. Other researchers can write reviews and letters to the editors, evaluating the validity of a work and raising questions about it. The original authors can also publish a reply. A journal may later retract an article if it is proven false or unsound, and subsequent editions of books can address new research and acknowledge conflicting information. 

Non-academic literature 

Non-academic literature doesn’t have to meet the same quality control criteria that academic literature does, and it’s usually targeted to a more general audience.  

Here are some examples of non-academic literature you may need to use in your research: 

News articles 

These can be written for the general public, specific professions or communities. News articles are published more quickly than journal articles, and they can provide context to existing research and theory.   

You can use news articles to find information about events, trends, attitudes, community values and issues, and how things like policy have been communicated to the public. Learn how to search for newspaper articles.

Company and industry information 

This includes company profiles, presentation materials, and industry and market reports, which are often created by business intelligence providers. While these sources often contain market research and statistics, they are written for non-academic purposes and lack some of the quality criteria of academic literature.  Learn more about finding company, industry, and country information

Trade journals and magazines 

These publications aim to share information within a specific industry or field. The content is usually practical and informative, as the intended audience is professionals working in that industry. Trade articles tend to be shorter than academic articles and lack references. Some trade journals can be found in journal databases. You can use database filters to show only trade journal articles in your results. You may also find trade magazines via the Library’s subscription to Flipster

Standards and patents 

While standards and patents can be specialist, regulated, or include references, they are not academic literature. Instead, they guide current practice and protect rights. Learn more about finding standards and patents.

Evaluate what you find 

Because there’s such a broad range of quality control measures for non-academic literature, you’ll need to be especially careful in evaluating what you find. Take specific care to look into the expertise of the authors, potential bias of the publication, and the underlying purpose of the information you’ve found. 

Literature styles and structures 

To learn your discipline’s specific academic literature styles and structures: 

  • Ask your tutor, lecturer or supervisor which academic journals are highly regarded in your discipline and look at how peer-reviewed articles within them were written. You might also use your unit readings and the journals or books they are published in. 
  • Ask your tutor, lecturer or supervisor to provide examples of academic literature and discuss these with you. 
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