This module introduces you to scientific publications and shows you how to tell them apart from more practice-oriented and popular publications. You will learn what the main categories of scientific publications are and what quality criteria apply to scientific publications. The module also looks at the ways academics communicate with each other and the importance of publications in the context of such communication.
This module will take roughly 20 minutes to complete.
No prior knowledge is required.
Scientific, professional or popular?
In the course of your studies, you will come across various types of information sources. Scientific publications form one of the main types. Other important types of publications are popular scientific publications and practice-oriented professional publications covering fields such as agriculture, manufacturing, law, healthcare and social work.
Scientific publications are written by academics for academics. Their purpose is the presentation and discussion of research findings and the advancement of hypotheses and theories.
Although there is some variation from discipline to discipline, the main distinguishing characteristics of scientific publications are:
Popular scientific publications
Popular scientific publications are for lay people without specialist knowledge of the relevant field. The distinguishing characteristics of popular publications include:
The content of these publications is mainly of a practical nature and aimed at professional practitioners in a wide variety of individual fields. The distinguishing characteristics of professional publications include:
Although it is generally important to distinguish between the different types of publication, some publications are not easy to put into one category.
Publications can be divided into various types, each with its own distinguishing characteristics. As a source of information, each type of publication has certain advantages and disadvantages.
If you have an interest in a field such as biological agriculture, a professional publication is a good place to get information. Your starting point is a fact-oriented, straightforward practical approach. However, a professional publication of this kind is less suitable if you know little about biology or agriculture. If that is the case, you are better off with a popular scientific publication.
If what you want is more in-depth theoretical information about something, or critical insight into the latest developments in a particular field or on a particular subject (and the boundaries of that subject), you will need to consult scientific publications. In the course of your studies at the Vrije Universiteit, you will come into contact with scientific publications more and more often.
A scientific article has a standardized structure that helps present the research in a clear and consistent manner. Here is a general structure of a scientific article:
Keep in mind that this is only a general guideline for the structure of a scientific article. The structure of a scientific article may vary depending on the field of study and the journal in which the article is published.
Scientific publications must meet certain criteria of scientificity and a critical scientific attitude is expected of the reader. What is published is not necessarily true, but must be "provable. The reader of a scientific publication must be able to verify the accuracy of the content. To increase the verifiability of information, certain conventions and quality criteria have emerged for scientific publications.
The most prominent feature in academic writing are the source citations. These serve to make a clear distinction between the results of your own research and text and data from others. When you use the results of someone else's research in your own publication, you should mention which article or book was used. Source citations allow the reader to look up the original publication if they wish.
Publications differ in terms of where reference details appear. The usual places are:
Please check: References
A footnote is found at the bottom of a page. Endnotes are at the end of a chapter or article. Footnotes and endnotes can refer to the source in several ways. Some publications mention only the author, publication year and page numbers to which the text refers. Other publications list the sources in the notes immediately with full title details. The bibliography (also called bibliography or reference list) of the publication lists the total of sources. Unlike in the text or in the footnotes or endnotes, the bibliography always lists the sources with full title information. Under the References tab you can read how to recognise references to different types of publications.
In popular scientific publications, a list of 'literature used' is sometimes given at the end of a publication without being referred to exactly in the text. In encyclopaedias and textbooks, this also occurs. In real scientific publications, this is not correct
Scientific articles are often reviewed prior to publication by fellow academics. The reviewers consider whether the publication is up to the academic standards of the day; only material that passes this review is published. This procedure is known as peer review. Peer review is used mainly in the context of scientific journals, where it is organized by the publishers. The most authoritative scientific journals tend to have the strictest pre-publication review arrangements.
Scientific publications exist in many formats. The main formats are articles and books.
The latest research findings are typically published in the form of scientific articles. More and more articles are made available as preprint. This means that before the article is officially published in an issue of a journal, it is made available on the website of the author or publisher of the journal.
There are different types of scientific articles, that vary in their purpose, structure and contents:
Self-contained publications devoted to one or more subjects, with a broader coverage than an article. There are different types of books, such as:
Within scientific disciplines exist a difference in the relative importance of books and articles. In the humanities most of the publications are books, while in the exact, technical and medical sciences articles are the most important.
Scientific publications don't exist in isolation, but serve as media for communication between academics and are therefore part of the wider scientific process. Academics communicate in various ways:
In this context, the key characteristics of scientific publications are that they are permanent and generally accessible. This allows scientists to continually learn about and contribute to the advancement of knowledge and science over time.
In the course of time, a huge body of scientific publications has been created, distributed around the world in libraries, archives and databases, to which the academic community constantly refers.
A website or publication may in principle be regarded as scientific if it meets any of the following criteria:
Many scholarly publications are available online but not freely accessible. A license or subscription is required to gain access. The university tries to make as much scholarly content available as possible. When you are on campus, you automatically make use of this. If you are working from another location, you must be recognized as a VU student. For this, use the lean library browser extension.
Fortunately, more and more academic publications are Open Access. Open Access is a broad international academic movement that seeks free access to scientific information, such as publications and data. This allows everyone to learn about the results of scientific research.
In this module, you have been introduced to various types of publications:
The characteristics of scientific publications vary from discipline to discipline, but generally include the following:
Scientific publications are distinct from:
Professional publications for professional practitioners
Popular scientific publications
There are various types of scientific publications, such as journal articles and books. Almost all journal articles are online available. More and more books are available as ebooks.