Academic texts, part 5: Target Audience

Sometimes you can determine whether a text is scientific och popular scientifc by getting a sence of who is the primary target audience of the text. Scientific texts are written the other researchers in the subject area in mind. This means that some things are taken for granted, e.g. subject knowledge or that the author is familiar with a specific theoretic tradition. It might also mean that a specific language (e.g. established terms or mathematical formulas) is used which is not easy to understand for those outside of the research area. Consequenses for readability differs between the research areas – in some subjects the target audiences ia a wide audience, even the generel public, while in other areas texts are mainly written for specialists. These specialists may include both researchers and professional population.

Within the natural sciences and history there are many good examples of writing popular science articles and presenting research in a more accessible way. Journals whose main audience (as authors and/or reader) is professional people are often (not always) popular science, branch or trade journals.

Scientific journals are aimed for researchers, students and professional people.The following for example is written in the description of description of Journal of Documentation from Emerald Publishers:

”Key journal audiences

  • Educators, scholars, researchers and advanced students in the information sciences
  • Reflective practitioners in the information professions
  • Policy makers and funders in information-related areas
  • The Journal’s content will also be of value to scholars and students in many related subject areas.”

In Author guidelines for the influential journal Nature we can see that the journals is written a number of audiences in mind but that all of them are not expected to read each and every article:

”Authors are strongly encouraged to attempt two 100-word summaries, one to encapsulate the significance of the work for readers of Nature (mainly scientists or those in scientifically related professions); and the other to explain the conclusions at an understandable level for the general public.” (From “For Authors”)

Both of these journals have researchers, students and professional people within the special areas as the target audience but they are also open for the fact that even general public might be interested in the articles.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 4: References

Reference management is an important part of scientific texts. References should be used in detail and in a correct manner to support your discussions and arguments. You use references to previous research to support your own study – you provide a context for your study. It is also considered good academic conduct (both towards other authors but also readers) to cite others’ work correctly. Through the text you refer to you take part in  scientific tradition; you show where you belong scientificly. References can also be used in a rhetorical way – to convince the reader that you know relevant litterature.

In different scientific genres and sub-genres references are handled different and also there are varying ways to form and to use citations and references within differend fields. There are texts which have great influence on science which do not include comprehensive references. An example of this is  Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (Philosophische Untersuchungen). Maybe one could debate whether these texts are scientific or not but they are seen as highly reasonable to cite in today’s scientific texts.

Further reading:

Hellqvist, B. (2010). Referencing in the humanities and its implications for citation analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(2), 310-318.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 3: Scientific genres

In the previous post I wrote about blogs. In some circumstances blog posts can be regarded as scientific texts but in general blogs are not to be viewed as a scientific genre. To learn to identify specific genres may be helpful when determining which texts are scientific.

A genre is distinguished by when texts assigned to the genre have some similarities (or regularities) e.g. contents, logical structure, typography, vocabularity and langugae. Some general scientific genres are:

  • Articles in scientific journals
  • Book/monographs
  • Chapter in an anthology
  • Doctoral/licentiate thesis
  • Conference paper
  • Review article/annual review

Some of these genres have been discussed in the previous blog posts. Reveiw articles are often littreature reviews. They summarizes the latest research in a specific area and try to draw conclusions from the results.

The genres which are interesting for publishing differs between subject areas and countries. This is important to remember when looking at what is scientific text in different areas. Even the language used in the publication differs and has consequence whether research is mainly published nationally or internationally. It is also good to be aware that the English speaking authors do not have to make this decision – American researcher publishing in an American journal in English does not have to make a decision between national and interantional.

To simplify some charecteristics in different areas:

  • Humanities
    • Monographs and book chapters are most common, often written in the national language
    • Articles are becomeing more common, even in international journals
    • Big differences between different subjects, e.g. linguists publish articles whereas researchers in litterature studies often publish monographs or book chapters
  • Natural Sciences, technology and medicine (STM)
    • Articles published in English in international scientific journals
    • Conference papers are particularly prestigious in some subject areas (e.g IT)
  • Social Sciences
    • Artciles published in English in international scientific journals
    • Books in the national language
    • Big differences between different subjects

Referenser:

Hellqvist, B. (2010). Referencing in the humanities and its implications for citation analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(2), 310-318.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, part 2: Publishers

One way to try to determine whether a text is scientific or not is to look at the context of the text and who is behind the text.

  • Is the article published in an scientific journal which you know of since before?
  • If you do not know the journal, is the publisher or organisation behind the journal known to publish scientific journals or to produce research? For example the Human IT, journal mentioned in the earlier post, is published by University of Borås. Another example is British Educational Research Journal which is associated with the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and published by Taylor & Francis which also publishes other scientific journals. Other well-known international publishers are Elsevier, Springer, Blackwell, Routledge and a number of publishers connected with universities, University Press –  although these are not necessarlily connected to a university anymore.
  • The above is valid for monographs and anthologies aswell.
  • When it comes to conferences a bit more detective work is needed but there are some conferences which are connected to an organisation, e.g. IEEE or ACM.
  • Some databases demand that journals and conference papers must have gone through peer review, e.g. Web of Science. If you are unsure you can check whether your journal is included there. Just remember, your journal is not automatically non-scientific just because the journal is not included in WoS-list.

So far the texts accepted as scientific in higher education are those which have been peer reviewed by external reviewers and the peer review usually takes place just before publishing. As the world of publishing is changing many researchers are using other channels to test their results and reasoning, such as blogs or publishing preprints (paper accepted for publishing but published yet) in open repositories such as arXiv.org. These texts are not necessarily considered as scientific although many of them are, especially those in arXiv.org. Depending on how the publishing world changes this might come to change.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts, par 1: Peer review

An important aspect in research is to review each other’s work. Is the research done in a proper manner and are the conclutions reasonable? The normal way to do this is through peer review. Articles which have been peer reviewed are called refereed articles. This means that a text is reviewed by one or more researchers within the specific research area. The reviewer should not be too close to the author. The reviewers should judge whether the article is good enough to be published, how it could be made better – and preferably catch mistakes and errors. A decision is then made by the editor if the article will be published or not.

Peer review differs a bit from research area to research area. In some research areas peer review is not the usual where as in other areas it is unthinkable to use material which has not been peer reviewed.

How do you know when a text is peer reviewed or not? When it comes to journals it is usually stated in the journal issue, on the web page or even in the article.

  • It can be very clear on the cover of the journal, e.g. ”PLOS Biology is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal featuring research articles of exceptional significance in all areas of biological science, from molecules to ecosystems.”
  • There might be guidelines for reviewers, e.g. ”Reviewer guidelines”. The review process is probably described, more or less in detail. See e.g. PLOS Biology Guidelines for Reviewers.
  • There might be guidelines for authors, e.g. Author guidelines e.g. Human IT (in Swedish).

As shown in the Human IT case a journal may contain both peer reviewed articles and articles which have gone through an editiorial review.

Conference papers are much like journal articles: it is not clear how much the conference has reviewed the contributions. Sometimes it is only a part of the paper which has been reviewed: the abstract rather than the whole paper. This is why you should be observant when it comes to which articles and papers have been peer reviewed.

When it comes ot scientific books, monographs (usually one author on one subject/aspect of a subject) it is harder to know if they are peer reviewed or not. Swedish books are usually not peer reviewed but they go though an editorial review. There are ongoing discussions to introduce peer review for monographs. However, British and North American monographs are often peer reviewed.

Anthologies, a book with chapters from a number of authors, are a bit different. Sometimes the authors have reviewed each others contributions, sort of an internal review but anthologies might have external reviewers aswell. In this case there is an acknowlegement in the finished book.

Of course peer review is not a quality guarantee that the research is done well and well argumented for but it is the most widespread and reliable system we have to quality review research.

//Helena Francke, lecturer at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund.

Academic texts: introduction

“Use peer reviewed/academic/scientifc texts”

This is something you hear from your teachers. As a student you are expected to build on scientifc publications, partly because the knowledge has been researched during structured forms and peer reviewed, partly to learn from and develop your scientific attitude. The university’s mission is to offer education on scientific ground.

What is scientific text? How does it differ from non-scientific text? Or from popular science texts? Or other texts which are not claiming to be scientific? This is not an easy question and there is not one simple answer. Rather, there are good examples to be found in both areas but there is also a gray zone in between.

The picture is complicated further by the fact that assessment differs from subject to subject. Therefore the following blog posts are only a general walk-through. A part of higher education is to learn what is scientific in one’s own subject field. The area I know best is the Social Sciences which you might notice.

There are some general things to observe when forming an opinion whether something is scientific or not. I will write about them in a series of blog posts. These are:

1. Peer review
2. Publishers
3. Scientific genres
4. References
5. Intended Audience
6. Content and form
7. Internet resources

The aim is for you to feel a little bit wiser next time you are searching and using scientific texts for your term paper or thesis.

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

Blog posts are translated from Swedish by Pieta Eklund

Guest blogger Helena Francke

We will have a series of blog posts about academic texts. We get a lot of questions about whether a text is scientific or not. This is why we decided to contact one of our researchers. She got the task to write in an easy way a blog post about scientific texts. This task resulted in seven blogposts which we will be publishing during the following weeks in this blog.

Helena Francke is a senior lecturer at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science. She has written her doctoral thesis on scholarly journals and the document and information architecture in open access journals. Her doctoral thesis (Re)creations of scholarly journals is available in BADA.

This is how she introduces herself:

Helena_FranckeMy name is Helena Francke and I am a lecturer in Library and Information Science. I will be guest blogging about academic texts during a couple of weeks.

 

We have introductory discussions on our programmes at BHS on which texts are regarded as academic, just like in any other programmes and courses at the university. In some cases this is obvious but not always. This fall I have had a couple of lectures on the matter for our new students on our bachelor’s programmes. Also, I support students at master’s programme as they work with academic texts. In one of the courses the students set up their own scientific journal which they also write articles for.

 

There is a research area in Library and Information Science which consentrates on scientific publishing and scientific communication: to understand the role of publishing within differenc scientific fields and how these publications are then organized systematically, made accessible and spread via libraries among other channels. In my own research I have been interested in the new trends in scientific publishing such as distribution online and open access publishing.

 

It is not enough to read a blog post or listen to a lecture to truly understand and to form an opininon of the scientific quality in all texts. To lear this requires one to search and read many types of texts, discussing them with others etc. The purpose with the coming blog posts is to give you tips and tools which will be usefull when forming an opinion. Then it is all about continuing reading!

 

//Helena Francke, lector at BHS

 

Pieta Eklund

Text is translated from Swedish and all possible mistakes are Pietas.