Sports Medicine

Confusing research terminology

Academics judge sources in several ways, and the meanings of these qualities sometimes overlap:


An old-fashioned term related to the early days of research publication when journals were published by clubs dedicated to research, called "scholarly societies"

Image of Royal Society of Medicine members, founded 1773

Today, "scholarly" is used to describe a work of research that is peer-reviewed (see below), trustworthy (probably written by an expert, and based on fact rather than opinion), and empirical.


A close synonym to "scholarly", when an article is said to be "academic", usually people mean that the article is a research article associated with academia, or a university or college. Association with such an institution of higher learning is taken to mean that the article is of high quality, for the same reasons that being "scholarly" is valued; it is assumed the work is peer-reviewed (see below), trustworthy (probably written by an expert, and based on fact rather than opinion), and empirical.

A lot of the articles published in research journals today are written by researchers who are also academics, people who work at universities teaching and researching in their areas of expertise. The institution of the university (academia) here confers its prestige onto the people who work there, "academics" or "academicians".

peer reviewed:

Peer review is a process articles go through before they are published in academic or scholarly journals. After an article is submitted to a journal, the journal sends the article to peers of that article's author, or people whose research interest is similar and are experts in the same field. These peers review the article and critique its research, claims, and sources. This process is widely thought to be rigorous and therefore is considered to be a test of quality. If an article or journal is peer-reviewed, it is assumed to be scholarly, trustworthy, and empirical.

However, this is not always true. The peer review process itself is different for each journal, and sometimes the peer reviewers do not catch errors or deliberate falsehoods, which are then published by journals when they publish the article. Sometimes these bad or biased articles are retracted, or removed from the list of articles published by a journal after the fact if someone catches the errors after the article has already been printed or posted online.

an image of a retracted article originally published in The Lancet.

primary and secondary research

 Research is often divided into two categories, primary and secondary research. Primary research (sometimes also called original research) is when the researcher reports information or data that they themselves collected in an article that they themselves wrote. Secondary research is when the researcher is analyzing a data set someone else has collected or a collection of articles others have written on a single topic to find new meaning or surface new ideas.

Randomized control trials, clinical trials, and case studies are all primary research. Systematic and scoping reviews are all secondary research.

Giving credit to the work of others


In research disciplines, a "bibliography" is a list of resources which a researcher uses to build the foundations for or prove the arguments in their own work. It is expected that when someone writes up their research, particularly in article form, that they will communicate to their readers where they are building upon the ideas of others by mentioning the names of those previous people where relevant, and then providing a full listing of that previous person's work in their bibliography, which is a list appearing at the end of the new work. Websites, movies, even posters can have bibliographies. Sometimes people even just make lists of articles on a specific topic and call those "bibliographies".


A "reference" is a statement crediting a previous researcher with an idea. Writers make reference to past researchers in their own writing, but in research disciplines a "reference" is a very formally formatted (see "citation style" below) way of giving credit in the body of the text as well as at the end in your bibliography, which is also sometimes called a "reference list"

The first page of references lists at the close of two separate articles.


A synonym to reference, but without the conversational element. You can make reference to an artist in a speech, but if you make a citation, it's understood that you are writing that reference down, not just saying it out loud.

citation style

References and citations are expected to be formatted in very specific ways, and different scientific disciplines have developed their own requirements for how they want people to format their references. The most used citation styles in research disciplines are the American Psychological Association (APA) Style, American Medical Association (AMA) Style, and the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Style. Notably, ICJME Style is also called National Library of Medicine Style as well as Vancouver Style.

an image of a paragraph in an article with in-text citations formatted according to ICJME/NNLM/Vancouver style