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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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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 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 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 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.
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?
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.
Is the information and source type relevant to the context in which you are working? What sources has the author used?
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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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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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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Science is under siege these days. Some politicians proudly proclaim that evolution is just a theory and that climate change is a conspiracy among scientists. Health gurus advocate homeopathy or “natural” remedies rather than modern medicine. Parents ignore the advice of doctors and experts and refuse to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases. People who are quite happy to reap the benefits of science—new medical treatments, for example, or sci-fi-like technological devices—advocate for schools to teach religion in science class.
And so I think it’s time for the rest of us to speak up. Let’s explain what it is about science that satisfies us, how science improves our world and why it’s better than superstition. To that end, I’m starting a new series here on Surprising Science: Why I Like Science. In coming months, I’ll ask scientists, writers, musicians and others to weigh in on the topic. And I’m also asking you, the readers, why you like science. If you’d like to participate, send a 200- to 500-word essay to WhyILikeScience@gmail.com; I’ll publish the best.
And to start us off, here’s why I like science:
When we are little, we ask “why.” “Why is the sky blue?” “Why do balls fall down and not up?” “Why can’t my fish live outside water?” Good parents root their answers in science. The sky is blue due to the way light is scattered in the atmosphere. Balls fall down because of gravity. Your fish doesn’t have lungs, and gills only work in water.
But science doesn’t just give us answers to the why’s of our childhoods; it gives us the tools we need to keep answering them as we grow up.
Science is the tool I use to understand the world around me. It provides logic and sense and order in what might otherwise seem chaotic. And though the answer to the why’s of my adulthood may sometimes be “we don’t know,” it’s really just “we don’t know yet”—the answer will eventually be found, with science.
And then there’s the act of finding those answers, putting the methods of science into action, that I find more fascinating than any bit of fiction. There are astronomers who use telescopes to peer back in time. Biologists who discover new species in both familiar and faraway places and struggle to figure out how to save others from extinction. Even a non-scientist sitting at a computer can help to solve molecular structures, hunt for planets or decipher ancient Egyptian texts during lunch break. Science is often, simply, fun.
Science is also the light that keeps us out of the dark ages. It may not solve all of our problems, but it usually shows us the path to the solutions. And the more we know, the more questions we find. It’s a never-ending search for answers that will continue for as long as the human race exists. And guaranteed satisfaction for the little girl inside me, the one that still asks “why.”
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