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ENGL 105, Academic Writing: Introduction

Scholarly or Not?

Not all journals are created equal, and not all will be appropriate for every research need. Here are some characteristics of scholarly journals:

  • the authors are researchers or scholars - articles will typically include the author's institutional affiliation;
  • the articles reflect an-depth analysis of topics or report original research (theoretical, experimental or applied);
  • articles are often lengthy, and book reviews, if included, are substantial;
  • the language used reflects the technical vocabulary of the discipline (i.e., jargon); and
  • many are refereed or peer-reviewed.

For more information and additional characteristics, see Types of Periodicals.

Books are rarely peer-reviewed, which can make it more challenging to determine scholarly status. However, the following are common characteristics of scholarly books:

  • the authors or editors are researchers or scholars (you might need to look inside the book for information about the author, or you can try a Google search);
  • the publisher is often a university press (e.g., Oxford University Press, University of California Press) or an academic society (e.g., American Anthropological Association); and/or
  • the language used reflects the technical vocabulary of the discipline (i.e., jargon).

The Search for Context

The diagram below shows you that writing a paper is not a simple linear process.

There are various aspects that will affect what you look for and what you find. Half way through doing your paper, you might find something that really changes your perspective on the topic and how you want to write about it. So make sure you give yourself enough time for this.

Four Contexts of the Research Process

Big Picture

  • Identifying a potential topic
  • Figuring out how your topic fits into the course topics
  • Narrowing down a topic that seems (or is) too broad
  • Learning enough about a topic to be able to identify a focus or perspective

Situational

  • Understanding the requirements of the task or assignment
  • Understanding how this project relates to your own curiosity, personal gratification, or needs
  • Figuring out how much time to spend on your research
  • Figuring out how to get a “good grade”
  • Finding sample papers from former students, provided by instructor
  • Finding guidelines for paper submission

Language

  • Becoming more comfortable with language and terms used in a particular discipline
  • Finding the language used by authors of the sources you need
  • Translating terms and words from one language to another language
  • Figuring out search terms for use in further research

Information Gathering

  • Understanding what kinds of resources will meet the needs of your task or assignment
  • Finding out what research has been published about a topic
  • Locating full-text versions (online and print) of potential research sources
  • Strategies to deal with overwhelming numbers of potential sources
  • Applying the big picture, language, and situational contexts to finding information

 

Adapted from: Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2009). Finding context: What today's college students say about conducting research in the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.projectinfolit.org/publications.html

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