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A scientific approach

As a student of the University, it is important to know how to independently orient yourself amid large amounts of information. You need to be able to assess whether or not the information you seek can be used in a scientific context, and you also need to be able to examine it critically.

Scientific texts aim to present research findings. By describing how results are derived, the theoretical foundation on which they’re based, approaches taken and conclusions made, research is spread and creates a basis for yet further research.

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Information sources

Different kinds of information are published as different types of sources. These can be divided into primary sources, secondary sources and tertiary sources.

Primary Sources

Primary sources consist of first-hand information or original data, such as letters, diaries, raw statistics, photos and court findings.  Even scientific journal articles that include new research published for the first time are considered primary sources.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are based on primary sources and summarise, analyse and critically evaluate primary sources. Examples of secondary sources include books, reviews and research surveys.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary Sources are based solely on secondary sources. For example, various types of encyclopaedias are tertiary sources.

Different source types

It is important to have a basic understanding of the different source types and also the contexts in which they can appropriately be used. For example, it is common that new scientific results are published in articles from scientific journals.

Journals are also the main publication source for the natural sciences, technology and medicine. Research in the humanities and social sciences are often published in monographs (books) and in reports.

The source type that you use ought to be partly determined by the type of information that is needed as well as how the information will be used.


Encyclopaedias are a good source of background information and can be used to help describe and clarify specific information in your essay. You can also use them to get a topic overview and tips on literature within the topic.

Journals and Articles

If you are looking for the latest research in a subject, articles in journals are advised. Articles are published in various types of journals, such as popular science magazines and scientific journals.

Scientific journal articles might present new research findings and theories. They often speak to an international research audience and are written in English. Popular scientific articles often cater to a general public who want to be informed about a topic, so the text is usually written in a simplified language that all readers will understand.


A book or monograph is appropriate to use when you need a broad and in-depth report on a particular topic. Books often contain more established knowledge.

Daily press

Everyday newspaper articles in the daily press are impossible to treat as research sources, but they can be used, for example, to survey and describe how certain phenomenon were treated in the media.

If you are unsure as to whether or not a particular source can be used in your essay, please speak with your supervisor.

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What is a scientific article?

An important type of scientific publication is the scientific article. Other important scientific publications are doctoral theses, books (monographs and chapters in books), research reports and conference reports.

Learn what characterises a scientific article, and how you can assess an article or journal’s scientific merit.

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Check list - Evaluate your sources

It is important to be critical whenever you review and evaluate a source, whether it’s in print or on the Internet. Evaluate your sources with these points and questions in mind:

1. The author

Who is the author and what have others said about the author and/or the author’s article? Is the author a scientist, a journalist, or is information about the author’s qualifications missing?

2. Purpose and target audience

What is the author’s purpose? Try to assess whether the author has written the article to inform, influence or provoke.

3. The publisher

Who published the article? Was it an academic publishing house or is the publisher recognised in some other way for knowledge in the subject?

4. Timeliness

When was the text written and is that significant for you? It’s often relatively easy to determine when printed sources were published, while it may be more difficult to track the publication dates of web documents.

5. Content

Is the information and source type relevant to the context in which you are working? What sources has the author used?

6. References

Are there any references and/or a bibliography?

7. Scientific quality

Is the information reviewed or controlled within a scientific context? Is it important and relevant to your purpose?

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Referencing or plagiarism

A scientific approach means that the author clearly identifies the purpose and results of the work, as well as the sources for all research. Each time you use data from another source, you must clearly state this.

If you are unclear or careless when referencing other sources, you can be accused of plagiarism and cheating. For example, it is easy to copy text from the Internet without citing the source and to forget where you read something. In the case of a citation, where you repeat verbatim a text from another source, and in more comprehensive references to someone else’s work, it is very important to clearly state the source.

To learn more about the difference between quoting and plagiarism, use Refero – The Anti-plagiarism Tutorial.

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Writing References

At the end of an essay, a list of all the work that you’ve used should be provided in a bibliography. Since readers must be able to retrieve the sources you’ve used, it’s important that the references are as complete and clear as possible.

There are different systems for writing references in a paper, but some of the most common in Sweden are APA, the Harvard System and the Oxford System. The reference systems of institutions differ greatly, however. If you have any questions about your references and bibliography, please contact your supervisor.

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Reference Management

You can easily create your own library for organising references with the help of reference management software. You can collect references from databases and insert literature references, footnotes and bibliography directly into your documents.

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