Academic & non-academic

What is academic & non-academic material?

At University it is very important that you understand the difference between academic and non-academic sources.

Academic material is written by academic researchers attached to universities. In the academic world it's considered important that quality of material is assured and that new research builds upon past research.

Using academic materials to help you to write your assignments will give them greater authority (and will help you to get better grades). Conversely, ignoring the academic materials is likely to get you a poor grade or you may even fail an assignment.

Peer reviewed academic material is reckoned to have the greatest authority. Material which has been peer-reviewed will have been scrutinised and assessed by a panel of academic experts before publication. 

The main forums for publishing academic research material are:

  • Peer reviewed academic journals
  • Conference papers
  • Research reports
  • Postgraduate dissertations & theses
  • Books

Non-academic materials are not written by academic researchers and are aimed at the general public. The authors may not be experts in the topics they are writing about and will probably not have researched them in depth. Some non-academic materials (especially those on the web) may be inaccurate, biased and out of date. Relying solely on non-academic sources and failing to understand that the information they contain is not the same as that from the academic sources may get you a poor grade or may even cause you to fail an assignment.

The following materials are usually sources of non-academic material:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Internet news services 
  • TV & radio programmes
  • DVDs
  • Youtube videos
  • Most websites
Must I only use academic materials for my assignments?

As a general rule you should use academic research material as the basis for all your assignments and only use non-academic sources sparingly. It's also important that when writing your assignment you make it clear that you understand the difference between information from academic sources and those from non-academic sources.

Much depends upon the instructions your tutor has given you. It's always a good idea to read the assignment guidance in your unit handbook to see if the type of material you're required to use is specified. If you're unclear about what you're supposed to use - ask your tutor.

 An example of using academic and non-academic sources:

You've been given the following assignment:

"Discuss the reasons for the current increase in teenage gangs."

You would expect to use relevant books to give you an overview of this topic and relevant journal articles to give you the latest research. You would discuss the different author's viewpoints and theories and come to your conclusions based upon what they have written.

You might also use a few relevant non-academic sources, e.g. a newspaper article detailing a case concerning teenage gangs, to illustrate a point or to show that you're aware of current developments. You should, however, make it clear that you know that the views and opinions expressed in these sources do not have the same authority as those expressed in the books and journal articles.

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