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How to Write Distinction Essays Every Time: Step 3. Conduct the Research Part Two: Research Skills and Academic Sources

Part Two: Research Skills and Academic Sources

This article is part of the series ‘How to Write Distinction Essays Every Time: The Six Steps to Academic Essay Writing’. Look out for the entire series on Elite Editing’s website at under Resources.

Have you ever received feedback on an assessment telling you that the sources you used were not academic?

Have you ever used Wikipedia or another non-academic source in your research?

Do you find knowing what sources to use and what sources not to use confusing?

Do you have trouble knowing where to go to get the information you need for your research?

Being able to tell the difference between an academic source and a non-academic source, knowing where to find academic sources and deciding what sources are relevant to your research are important skills that you will develop during your tertiary studies. The aim of this article is to point you in the right direction.

The first place you should go is the university library, even if this means ordering in sources from other libraries. Most books and journals in the library will be appropriate academic sources for essay writing.

The peer review process

For academics to have their work published, they must usually go through a process called peer review. This is especially the case for journal articles, whereas for academic books and textbooks, publishers might perform the assessment through the editorial process.

During the peer review process, one or more other academics who are experts in the field will read and assess the work to decide whether it is of a publishable standard. This is why your research will be of the highest quality if you use peer reviewed journal articles, books, monographs and textbooks written by academics for your research, because the work had to meet academic standards. There is no such process for publishing on the internet; anyone can write whatever they like on any subject.

Journal articles and electronic databases

The best source of peer reviewed material is journal articles from peer reviewed journals. Some of these will only be available in hardcopy from the library, but most will be available in their full-text versions through online electronic databases, such as JSTOR, ProQuest, PubMed and Ingenta, which are accessible through the university library catalogue.

When you search the electronic databases, make sure you modify your search so that you are only given results from peer reviewed journals. This will ensure that the journal articles you find have gone through the process explained above to ensure that they are of a high standard. Most journals will promote their peer review status on their website or in their preliminary pages. You can also search databases so that you receive results only for articles that are available in their full electronic versions.

Books, monographs and textbooks

Your next stop is books, monographs and textbooks. While many books undergo a process of assessment or review, it is not easy to tell whether a book has been peer reviewed or appropriately assessed. A good idea is to look for books that have been published by either university presses (e.g. Oxford University Press), since these books are usually written by university faculty members who must maintain their scholarly reputation, or other academic publishers (e.g. Routledge or the American Psychological Association). Another idea is to check the author’s credentials and affiliations with academic institutions.

Internet resources

As explained above, there is no way of ensuring the standard of information that is uploaded to the internet. Anyone can publish anything on the internet; thus, websites are not the ideal place for you to get your information.

When you do use the internet and websites for your research, you need to be sure that you are consulting reputable sources. For example, websites published by governments, universities, the United Nations and national organisations like the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association will generally contain quality information. However, it is important to note that these sources are not considered academic sources if they have not been written by academics. Nonetheless, unless you have been specifically requested by your tutor or lecturer to use only sources written by academics, you can often find valuable information from these reputable websites that may assist you in your research. Just be careful to ensure you know exactly who has published the information on the internet and to record the exact URL for your reference list.

A useful guide but not definitive: Where to go for more information

The above information is only a guide, and ultimately where you find most of your sources will depend on your essay topic. For example, if you were writing a sociology essay on an aspect of the media you would need to consult newspapers, television programs and internet news websites.

If you are in doubt about what types of sources to use, check your course information booklet for more information about your particular assessment piece. Find out if there is a recommended reading list that you can begin with, and then use the sources listed in those readings to find further sources. If you are still not sure, check with your lecturer or tutor.

The next article in this series is ‘How to Write Distinction Essays Every Time: Step 4. Finalise the Essay Plan’.

If you require further assistance with your essay writing, please explore the many useful blog articles in our Resources or contact us at Elite Editing.

For information on our professional editing and thesis and dissertation editing service, please visit

Updated 27 January 2024
Ms Rachel Wheeler, Managing Editor,
Elite Editing.