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Academic research


What is academic research?

Academic research is sometimes called scholarly research and is carried out:

  • Within universities where staff may be professional researchers who may also have some teaching duties.  These can be Professors, Readers and Lecturers.  Most of these roles are a mix of teaching and research. Most academic research produced by universities is peer reviewed, which means that it has been scrutinised by other academics who are familiar with the topic.
  • By individuals carrying out research as part of masters or PhD (Doctoral) level study
  • Also within FE - and a Scholarship Framework has been developed to help colleges enhance their HE provision                                      

The culture of scholarship is increasingly being supported for those teaching HE in FE, and In many cases Further Education Colleges are working with Universities to support scholarship. A resource that supports this, is the Toolkit for Professional Development: The Continuum Model of Scholarship.


University roles


  • The title ‘Professor’ does not denote a qualification - though they usually have a PhD, it’s not always the case.
  • Have added significant scholarly contributions to their field of study.
  • In the UK, the term ‘professorship’ denotes distinction, and is given to someone who has been promoted to the highest academic grade - usually on the basis of scholarly achievement (known in the US as ‘full professorship’).   


  • Distinguished reputation for original research.
  • May focus on research rather than teaching.
  • Not all universities have this role, or are no longer using it for new posts.

Senior Lecturer

  • Mix of teaching and research.
  • Sometimes this role can cover ‘Reader’ responsibilities.


  • Entry-level academic position.
  • Teach and conduct research.


Educational research is usually considered to be part of the social sciences, its aim being to understand the complexities of the educational challenges that learners, teachers and others in this context face. This is a complex process and is influenced by our belief systems (paradigms) and the many variables in play. A piece of research carried out in one educational context may result in different outcomes in another context.  But this is the reason to get involved in research, and find out what works in your setting. Methods in the social sciences can include experiments through to analysis of lived experience. You might find this article interesting Research dilemmas: paradigms, methods and methodology, as it discusses the process involved in undertaking a research project.  

Academic research also helps us question our own opinions and shape our arguments, as you can see here: 

A taste of research example (a systematic review article):  How common is belief in the learning styles neuromyth, and does it matter? A pragmatic systematic review

Twitter handle @FrontEducation and @FrontiersIn

Accessing academic research

Academic sources take many forms including scholarly books, journal articles, conference contributions, reports, and monographs (many academic researchers write a number of versions of their research for different audiences).  For example, an academic researcher publishes their original research (which might include surveys, interviews, simulations, statistics etc.), and it will be available in university libraries. They might then follow that publication with an article in online forums for discussion. Universities also pay for access to research databases and journals. Increasingly academic research is available in open access formats. 

University libraries

Most university libraries can be joined for an annual fee.  This gives access to a huge range of articles and conference papers, as well as research journals, which are periodicals that contain articles written by experts in a particular field of study, who report the results of research in that field. These articles are intended to be read by other experts or students of the field, and they are typically much more sophisticated and advanced than the articles found in general magazines.

Open Access schemes

There are an increasing number of Open Access schemes for which access is free (they may also reference research which is not freely available). For example:

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)

DOAJ is independent, with all support coming via donations, and by being community-curated. It hosts a free search-engine to find journals, though not all the journals themselves are Open Access. There is a free newsletter, blog and news service.  DOAJ provides links to journal websites, useful information on them, and whether articles can be read online.


The mission of CORE, which is delivered by the Open University and Jisc, is to aggregate all open access research worldwide and deliver unrestricted access for all to both raw data and full texts of research papers. Some FE institutions have membership of their archives. Here is an introductory video, which you may find helpful:


Twitter handle @Jisc

A taste of research example: Remote education good practice: published 1 October 2020


JSTOR provides several options for open content to read online for free, though not everything is free through a personal account. Some institutions have a subscription to JSTOR which gives wider access – you can check if your organisation has paid for membership on their site. If not, the system shows you clearly what is open access content and what is not. JSTOR has produced a series of videos to help you get started: 

Twitter handle @JSTOR and @JSTORSupport


Some publishers have blogs where content is made freely available, e.g. Cambridge Core (find out more via Cambridge Core Blog.) Universities are increasingly using blogs to publicise their work and open up discussion. Many researchers also have their own blogs and these can be an accessible way into learning about research. They can be challenging and often have the benefit of covering topics of the moment. They can also be fun, and draw you into a community of researchers, for example:

Dr Nadine Muller is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature & Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University. Her blog is about academia and  her experiences within academia. Amongst other things, she says that her blog is about ‘redefining what it takes to be an academic and how  academics are expected to present themselves, their lives, and their work’. Dr Muller aims to provide support, training, and development resources for  postgraduate and early career researchers. Twitter handle @Nadine-Muller

Dr Ellie Mackin Roberts is a Teaching Fellow in Ancient History at the University of Leicester and a Research Associate at the Institute of Classical  Studies, London. She is also one of the moderators of @ECRchat - the Twitter feed for early career researchers.  Twitter handle @EllieMackin

Learning Scientists was co-founded by cognitive psychologists Dr Megan A. Sumeracki and Dr Yana Weinstein. They started the blog with a major focus on the science of learning. The blogposts are for researchers, teaching professionals, and students to ‘make scientific research on learning more accessible’. It covers topics such as effective learning and note-taking strategies, creating study plans, and heuristics, amongst others. Twitter handle @AceThatTest

Many universities have their own research blogs. The blogs are sometimes a distillation of longer pieces and give a link to the original articles for example:

Other examples

The key is to find research around your chosen topic, so start your research by looking widely. Once you have read the abstract or summary, a tip is to look at the reference lists at the end of the reports, which may lead you to more specific research linked to your topic.


A research sharing website which allows academics to post their papers online.  Academia is not a university or institution for higher education, even though it has a .edu domain name (because it was registered before1999 when such regulations came in). You may also wish to have a look at ResearchGateGoogle Scholar (see below) and Mendeley.

A taste of research example: Education and Lifelong Learning: literature review on teacher education in the 21st century

Association for Research in Post- Compulsory Education (ARPCE)

The Association for Research in Post-Compulsory Education (ARPCE) was originally formed around 1980 to promote good practice in the Further Education sector and related fields such as Adult and Community Education. It was originally known as the Further Education Research Association (FERA). ARPCE is both independent, non-profit making, and run by a voluntary committee, their journal being issued three or four times a year. All research articles have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and anonymised refereeing - normally by two or three expert referees. ARPCE also runs conferences and seminars. Twitter handle @ARPCEresearch

British Educational Research Association (BERA)

BERA is a membership association committed to advancing research quality, building research capacity and fostering research engagement. It’s known by many practitioner researchers and academic researchers for its ethical guidelines for educational research.  It has a practitioner research special interest group (SIG), which is interested in research as an integral part of teacher practice, and in promoting the publication and dissemination of practitioner research studies. BERA Bites are a selection of BERA blogs on key topics in education. Twitter handle @BERANews

The British Library

As a member of the public you can access the British Library’s collections in St. Pancras, London or Boston Spa, Yorkshire. Registration is required to use this service, and there is more information about this on the British Library’s website:

The British Library also provides Help for Researchers on their website. This includes a service for purchasing electronic copies of journal articles. Twitter handle @BL-Learning

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature. It includes citations to books, which can be useful, though it does not vet entries. There is also a very useful search tips section.  Sometimes it does not give you access to the full text, but it can still be a useful way of discovering reliable academic references and sources to follow up. In some cases though, Google Scholar does provide you with a direct link to PDFs of research as well as a link to the website concerned (see example below). You can find out how others are using it by following #Google Scholar.

A taste of research example: Reasons for student non-attendance at lectures and tutorials: an analysis


inSPIREfe is a newly established (first publication March 2021) community based academic journal. Its audience is trainee teachers and teacher educators in the FE sector. They run freely accessible symposia, offer templates for submissions and encourage collaborative writing. Twitter handle @inSPIRE_FE 

Jisc OpenDoar 

The Directory of Open Access Repositories was launched in 2005 as the product of a collaborative project between the University of Nottingham and Lund University. For those of us working in FE the Learning and research resources section may be the most useful place to start.  Twitter handle @OpenDOAR

How academic research is structured

Most academic research papers are in the sequence of Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion, References, Tables & Figures, and finally Appendices. If you would like some support in how to read an academic paper, this Learning Scientists article might help you. Twitter handle @AceThatTest


The abstract is a particularly useful section of a research paper, as it helps the reader decide whether to read further, whether the research is of interest. It is a one-paragraph summary overview of the entire study, typically no more than 250 words in length.  

Harvard referencing

Researchers use specific forms of referencing. One of the most commonly used styles in the UK is Harvard referencing.  Harvard uses two types of citations: 

  • in-text citations - where the writer is directly quoting or paraphrasing a source.  These citations are in the body of the work
  • reference lists - located at the end of the work and display full citations.

Citations are not created just to acknoweldge their sources, but also to allow readers to easily locate the original text themselves. Consequently, reference lists can be a really useful source of information. Most university websites have a guide.  See here for a guide to Harvard referencing.  


Here is a glossary of definitions which you may find useful when you first engage with research.