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FSC100 The Real CSI

Introduction to research in forensic science

What Are Scholarly Materials? What are Peer-Reviewed Materials? What's the difference?

Scholarly journal articles and other scholarly resources such as books are published for an audience of researchers, not for the general public.

Articles published in a "peer reviewed" scholarly journal have been read critically by experts ("peers" of the authors) with a deep knowledge of the subject matter as part of the formal process of peer review. These "peers" will have read, and reflected on, every aspect of the article, including its research questions, literature review, methodology and results, and have assessed the findings to determine the oriiginality and soundness of what the authors present as "original research."

Once the peer review process is complete, the article can be accepted it for publication as is, be revised before publication, or be rejected altogether.  Think of peer review as a scholarly quality control process.

"Refereed" means the same thing as "peer reviewed."

Comparing Non-Scholarly and Scholarly Resources

  Non-Scholarly Sources (Newspapers, Magazines, etc)

       Scholarly Sources  (including peer-reviewed journals)

  • General public
  • Scholars in that field, and the academic community
  • Journalists; professional writers; persons with a general interest in that topic.
  • No academic affiliation or credentials given
  • Experts in that field (faculty, post-docs, graduate students, etc.)
  • Articles will include author's research affliations
  • Editor working for publisher
  • Editorial board of scholars
  • Peer reviewers who are experts in the field
Citations (Footnotes, Endnotes, etc)
  • References are typically NOT included
  • Includes a bibliography, references, or works cited section.
  • Commercial publisher
  • Scholarly or professional organization, an academic press
Writing Style
  • Assumes readers have no or little knowledge of topic
  • Intended for broad readership
  • Assumes reader has a level of knowledge in the field
  • Uses jargon and technical details related to the field
Other Characteristics
  • Includes advertisements and pictures
  • Glossy presentation
  • Broad subject coverage
  • Text heavy, with few if any images excepts for graphical presentation of data
  • Tables and charts included
  • Few or no advertisements
  • A narrow subject focus

Not sure if a journal article is "Refereed" (Peer Reviewed)?

If you would like to delve deeper into what researchers write about peer review, take a look at this Scholarly Kitchen 2019 Peer Review Week article by Ann Michael.

Primary and Secondary Sources in the Sciences

Scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles are primary sources in the sciences because they communicate new original research findings (so-called "first disclosure") transparently to the the scholarly community.

Books (which may or may not be peer reviewed themselves!) and review articles (typically peer-reviewed) are secondary sources because they build on primary source knowledge without presenting completely new findings. The synthesis is new, but the information on which it is base was collected by other researchers.

types of sources: primary and secondary

Pechenik (2013: 21-22) provided a good summary of the differences between, and roles of, primary and secondary sources in the sciences:

    "For most assignments [...], you will be asked to go beyond the factual foundation of a field and read the primary literature, which

     presents the results of original studies and includes detailed information about how those studies were conducted. Articles encompassing

     this primary literature are written by the people who did the research, and are published in formal research journals [...]. The articles are

     published only after being reviewed ("refereed") and evaluated by other scientists in a process called "peer review." [...]

     But you can't search effectively for useful primary sources until you have a pretty good idea of what you're looking for.

     Begin by reading the relevant portions of your class notes and relevant documents in the secondary literature, which gives someone

     else's summaries, interpretations, and evaluations of the primary literature."

Pechenik, J. A. (2013). A Short Guide to Writing about Biology. 8th ed. Toronto: Pearson.

Here is a visual summary of what Pechenik advises us to do when writing on an unfamiliar topic in the sciences:

start with secondary sources