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Information Literacy Course International Relations: Scholarly communication

Scholarly communication

Publications are very important in the academic world because they communicate the results of research. The diagram above shows a schematic representation of the diffusion of research results. The cycle starts at the top with an idea for research and is followed by the research project.

When the researcher finds results they are communicated. First there is informal communication. Researchers talk to their colleages about their projects or they post a first report on the internet.  

Disseminating the results of research to the broader academic community is done by publishing the research results in a scholarly publication. There are several formats for publishing research results and there are differences between the academic displines. The diagram above gives an overview of the possibilities.

The first formal communication medium often is a paper that is presented at a conference and published in the conference proceedings. This can be followed later by the writing of an article that is published in a scholarly journal. 

For researchers in the humanities there can be another important medium to publish research results. They extend their research on the topic and in the end they write a monograph.

The knowledge communicated in articles and books can be combined and summarized in resources like handbooks and reference works. As we will see later on handbooks are not reports of researchers about their own research projects, but have the purpose to craft a synthesis of all available knowledge in a field.

University libraries make these publications available to the academic community. In this way researchers can use the knowledge of their predecessors and add their own knowledge to the field.

Watch this short film about scholarly communication

Scholarly publications

Scholarly or academic publications are written by and for academics. In these publications, academics inform each other of research results, discuss the significance of the results, and formulate hypotheses and theories.  

The publications must meet certain academic criteria, and readers are assumed to have a critical academic approach. Material that is published is not automatically true; it must be ‘proven’. 

Readers of academic publications must be able to verify the correctness of the content. In order to make it easier to verify information, there are agreements and quality criteria in place for academic publications.

Authors of academic publications must provide precise references to the information on which the publication is based. This is done in different ways:

  • with source references in the text
  • by describing research methods used by the author
  • through review by other academics (peer review)

Academic publications have a number of notable characteristics:

  • a systematic structure, with a description of the research method used
  • use of special jargon or terminology that is developed in the field
  • quantitative data, graphs and tables, original text fragments
  • accurate source references
  • geared to academic readers

Popular literature

Not only scholarly publications are of interest for the field of international relations. Several types of popular publications are widely used as a source of information. 

Newspapers and general interest magazines give information about current events. Journalists and other well-informed people write books in which they comment current events. Blogs can be a means to publish information. Reports from organizations and think-thanks can be used as an information source.. 

There is a much quoted citation that says "journalism is the first rough draft of history". This quote indicates the importance of journalistic sources for academic research projects. 

Popular publications differ from scholarly literature. In scholarly publications the research method should be thoroughly explained. All important information that is 'borrowed' from the work of other researchers should be acknowledged. Scholarly publications are aimed at specialists in the field. Explaining the jargon in the field is not necessary.  

Scholarly publications have special procedures for the selection of publications that can be published: peer review. Popular publications don't use peer review.

The most important differences between popular and scholarly publications are:

  • simpler language
  • more explanation of the subject of the publication
  • less descriptions of research methods
  • few/no source references
  • geared to the genereal reader 

Book reviews and editorials are not considered scholarly articles, even when found in scholarly journals.