How to recognize a scientific paper?


We often get questions from students about scientific articles, what is it? How do you recognize them? Here are some things that might be good to check when you want to make sure that what you found is scientific. This text about scientific papers is primarily written for health care students, but much is the same in different disciplines.

1. Is the article published in a peer reviewed journal? Then, in a so-called “peer reviewed” or “refereed” journal? Sometimes you can narrow down their search to those by making a setting in the database to search in but sometimes you need to check the journal separately and then you can do the following:
a) Read more on the journal’s Web site to find information about the journal’s audience, purpose and potential investigation.

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b) Visit the database Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory, which holds information about journals to see if it is scientific. You’ll find Ulrich’s among the library’s databases. Search for the journal (ie, Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences). The hit list is the peer-reviewed journals are marked with a small icon that is supposed to be a referee shirt, this and more information on the magazine, you can also click the title.

This is what you want to see:

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Refereed – Yes indicates that the journal is peer reviewed.

Other types of magazines that you may encounter include Trade Journals (trade magazines) and magazines often in the style of Vogue, etc.

2. Once you have established that the journal is scientific, we come to the next step: Is the article itself scientific? Even in peer reviewed journals, there may be other types of content that are not reported research results. It can be book reviews, opinion pieces, columns, etc. Here are some things you can look at to determine if the article is scientific:

– Are the authors researchers?

– Is there an abstract?

– Is the article clearly structured with headings? IMRAD is a common approach in scientific articles and letters refer to the parts that article shall contain:

– Introduction, Methods, Results, (And) Discussion

– Explainations to the results of an empirical study (quantitative or qualitative)?

– Is there a long reference list with plenty of references to other studies?

– Is the language advanced and scientific?

– Is the article longer than a few pages?

– Is there any information that there is “original research”, “research article”, “empirical study”, “clinical trial” or similar?

If you answer yes to most of these questions, you can use the article without having to worry. And you are of course welcome to discuss with us librarians in information point if you are still unsure!

Here is an example of a scientific article from the aforementioned magazine, please check of the questions above:

Dale, B., Soderhamn, U. and Soderhamn, O. (2012), Self-care portability among home-dwelling older people in rural areas in southern Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 26 (1), ss. 113-122. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6712.2011.00917.x


Text and picture: Sara Hellberg