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Life Sciences Subject Guide

An Academic Librarian guide for students

Search Criteria

You may also want to consider if there are any specific requirements for the type of information you use. These search criteria may help you to focus your search and direct you to the best resource for the information you need. Below are some questions you may find useful to help guide your searching:

  • Language: Do you need English literature/research?
  • Geography: Does it matter what country the information refers to?
  • Type of source: Is it aimed at the right level? For example, is it written for an academic audience? Does that matter?
    • Do you need practitioner or academic sources?
    • Do you need specific policy or statistics?
    • The majority of your assignments will require rigorous academic sources that have been peer reviewed.
  • Date: How old is it? Does it reflect current research evidence? Is it a contemporary source for the period?

Academic Sources

Depending on your assignment, you may be asked to include a specific type of source, for example, an academic journal article. For the majority of your assignments you will be expected to use rigorous academic sources from peer-reviewed journals. 

Academic sources (for example academic journals) are written by academics for academics, with an emphasis on theory, usually peer-reviewed (articles scrutinised by experts before being accepted for publication). Academic journals contain articles of a substantial length with references to further reading and research.

Example: The Lancet has goals that “are expressed in four domains of our work: medical research, clinical practice, global health, and news and comment. The journal’s editors will collaborate over any contribution that advances or illuminates medical science or practice, or that educates or engages readers on important matters in the practice, policy, and politics of research, medicine, and public health.” (Elsevier Limited, 2016)

Practitioner Sources

Practitioner sources (for example professional magazines or journals) are service or industry-based and feature news items and job advertisements as well as advertisements for products relevant to that field. The emphasis is on current practice and thinking, usually quite short articles rarely containing any follow-on references.

Example: NewScientist: “New Scientist is a world leading science and technology brand, covering the big ideas and developments from all areas of science and technology through a respected and influential weekly magazine and widely read website. Offering the latest news, ideas and opinions, New Scientist is an authoritative voice on all matters related to science, technology and the ideas improving our knowledge of the universe and those shaping our world and lives”.  (Reed Business Information, 2016).

General Sources

General or popular sources – these are written for the public avoiding subject specific information or language. They include glossy, short pieces written for readers, alongside advertisements of general interest. A number of websites contain information suitable for the public that do not include subject depth or references to further information and may not be appropriate sources for an assignment. These may be relevant for general information, but not of a suitable standard for your assignments.

Example: NHS Choices: “The site is funded by the Department of Health. It is committed to providing objective and trustworthy information and guidance on all aspects of health and healthcare. All content on NHS Choices will be suitable for a general audience …” (, 2013)