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What is An Academic Source?

I've had a number of students ask for clarification about academic sources for the research paper. To
make sure that we are all on the same page, I decided to produce some guidelines. So, here it goes...

An academic source is a source which has passed through a process of what is called peer review. This
means that prior to being approved for publishing it has been closely read by experts in the field. It
means that when you read academic sources you can have a level of trust in the data on which they are
based. It doesn't mean that academic sources are always "right" since there can be multiple
interpretations of the same data.
It does mean, however, that the works meet a certain standard of expectations, and you can cite them
with confidence that they represent generally well-done research and analysis. Examples of academic
sources include academic journals such as the Journal of Politics, the American Political Science
Review, the American Journal of Political Science, Political Behavior, and so on. A good way to be sure
of an academic source in our areas of study is to see if it is indexed in the Social Science Index available
at the library (and online). For our purposes we will consider books available at the library as academic
sources as well, though strictly speaking some books (published usually be commercial publishers)
really are not, while those published by academic presses (like the University of Iowa Press, or
Cambridge University Press, etc.) are usually academic sources.

Academic Journals
So, academic journals include those which employ this kind of process. Journals such as the Journal of
Politics, the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and
Political Behavior are examples of the many sources that you can turn to to ensure academic quality.
You will also find lots of names that indicate interdisciplinary orientations, such as Identities: Global
Studies in Culture and Power or Ethnic and Racial Studies. The best way to make sure that you are
accessing academic journals is to use an academic journal search engine that the Collin College Library
provides to you. I recommend using either the Quick Find or Articles by subject link in order to try
various kinds of social science search engines. I highly recommend sources such as Opposing View
Points, CQ Researcher, Issues and Controversies, EBSCO Host and JStore. You will want to play around
with different search engines to see how they work. If you want more guidance, see a reference librarian.
That's what they are there for!

Academic Books
Making sure you have an academic book can be more difficult. Often a good sign is whether or not it
comes from a university press (e.g. Toronto University Press, Wilfrid Laurier University Press,
Minnesota University Press, etc.). If the name of the publisher doesn't give it away, then look for the
book's referencing and bibliography. Are there citations in the text linking the arguments to concrete
sources? Are there academic journals and books in the bibliography? More popular (i.e.
Nonacademic) titles will have less referencing, and may often tend to reference news sources rather than
academic sources. But be careful, some academic texts will reference lots of news sources if an analysis
of news coverage is a part of the research they are presenting. For our purposes we will consider books
available at the library as academic sources as well.
Again, ask a reference librarian if you have doubts.
Other Sources
Finally, I should highlight that you will also need non-academic sources for your project. These will
largely be web-based sources, which will give you access to organizational profiles, media reports,
reports from other organizations, etc. Journalistic sources: These are works which have NOT been
reviewed by other academic researchers and which may or may not represent good research. Things like
Wikipedia fall into this category too, and can be useful for addressing gaps in your own general
knowledge about a topic. These sources can be used for getting started on a topic but it does not count
as an academic source nor are you able to use it as a source for your research throughout my class (see
the syllabus for further guidelines). So, are any web sources credible? The problem is you just don't
know. There are times, especially when writing about current events, when journalistic sources are
useful. You might also find them useful if you are trying to fill in a history of something. But they do not
carry as much weight in academic writing as do academic sources. Examples include Newspaper
articles, newsmagazines, "popular press" books, and most definitely internet-based materials. While
such sources may be acceptable for your papers, you must use them in moderation and rely more fully
on academic sources to support your points. In particular, unless you are certain that an Internet site is
linked to good academic research you need to be careful. Some sites such as government sites (like
www.census.gov) contain useful and valid data. You will also find a number of university based sites
(like http://www.electionstudies.org/) which contain usable materials. These are perfectly acceptable
Internet sites and count as academic sources for our purposes. In the end, if you are unsure of the
validity of a source, please see me.

A brief note about internet citations: Internet sources can be good ones, though not always. Be careful
that the site is more than mere opinion

Citing Sources
Remember, any time you borrow an idea from someone else, use concrete information from someone
else, or quote someone else, you MUST CITE YOUR SOURCE. I direct you to the syllabus on this
matter, where there are links to appropriate resources for clarifying how to cite. But I would also like to
highlight that you should not include items in your bibliography that you do not cite in your paper. In
other words, to meet the requirement for inclusion of academic sources in your assignment, those
sources MUST BE CITED in the essay. It is not sufficient to have academic sources in your
bibliography.

A Final Note on the Love of Research


Learn to use the library resources early because the demands for proper academic research will only
increase as you progress through your academic career. You may even find that research can be fun