How to read bi research

“Activists and Academics” was a special session joining the European bi research conference EuroBiReCon and the European BiCon.

It got me thinking about how people interested in research on bisexuality might access it. My day job in the David Wilson Library is exactly that: helping get research from the University of Leicester out into the world. If you are not used to university research then it might not be obvious how to get hold of it.

What is a journal?

A standard way to share research findings and get credit for doing so is to publish it in an academic or scholarly journal. A journal is like a magazine made up of research papers. They started as printed items but these days are often read on the Internet. There are tens of thousands of different journals; some are very specialist in a narrow subject area, others are more general. Some are published by small societies of interest, big publishers, universities or some partnership. For example the Journal of Bisexuality comes from the American Institute for Bisexuality and the publisher Taylor & Francis.

One of the things that often separates academic journals from regular magazines is peer review. This means a paper only gets published if one or more reviewers passes it as good enough. Reviewers are usually other researchers in the same field and reviews are often done anonymously (though in a small community it isn’t always hard to guess who they are). Reviewers or the editors may reject a paper or suggest corrections and often do.

Many journals you have to pay to subscribe to, but others are funded in other ways and are free to read. Few people buy journals themselves; they tend to be bought by libraries, spending millions of pounds at a larger university. There are plenty of ways to get free, legal and ethical access to academic papers: there is a worldwide movement towards open access and in UK funders require it for almost all current academic research.

What does an academic paper or article look like?

Papers have a title and a list of authors (often one author in the humanities up to hundreds or more for a big medical collaboration). They usually have an abstract which summarises the whole paper and then depending on the subject area they may be a piece of text or be split up into sections such as methods used. They usually say if they are funded and should point out any conflicts of interest and usually have a list of references to other papers. Authors can build on and quote other people’s research but they need to give credit to those people with a citation. A citation uniquely identifies a paper and most journals require them to be in a standard form e.g. “Moore, D. 2005. Empirical investigation of the conflict and flexibility models of bisexuality. Journal of Bisexuality, 5: 5–25.” On the Internet a “DOI” is a link that should always go to the official version of a paper e.g. 10.1080/15299710903316661

Papers can be in quite technical language and some journals also have a summary in plain language or even a video introduction from the author.

Some papers are presented at conferences and also published.

How do I find a paper?

As well as your usual favourite Internet search engine, there are specialist search engines that only look for academic work such as scholar.google.co.uk Once you find one paper the references will suggest others. Sometimes there are review papers that give an overview of a subject and some suggested reading. Librarians can help with searching skills or databases of research.

How do I get access to read a paper?

Sometimes you will be able to see the abstract to a paper, but the full paper is behind a paywall asking you for money for the paper or for a subscription. If this happens, don’t give up, there are others ways to get hold of research papers:

Repositories: Your search may bring you the version of record, the one published in the journal. However, recent UK research must also be deposited to a repository such as Leicester Research Archive (which I manage) and a less typeset copy can often be read there. Sometimes there will be a number of months embargo period between publication and being able to read a copy for free. Your search might also find these copies: perhaps a link like “All 3 versions”

Libraries: Libraries are great! You can ask at your public library and they will often go out of their way to be helpful and have access to many journals or can get loans from others libraries.

If you have tried searching for repository versions and asked your library and still can’t get to a paper, it is considered entirely reasonable to contact the authors and ask for a copy of their paper.

Other writing you might want to read: If someone takes a doctoral degree (usually called a PhD, a medical doctor’s qualification is MD) they need to produce a sizable piece of original research and publish a thesis or dissertation which is often book length. Many universities require an electronic copy be made available on the Internet. They also usually have a summary abstract at the beginning.
Some researchers present at conferences, write reports, write blogs, give talks in the pub (see Psychology in the Pub for example), give talks open to the public at their university or create online courses.

There are books intended for academic audiences (which tend to be expensive, again please do use the services of your library) and some researchers also write books for a wider audience or for popular magazines or newspapers.

BiUK is a good place to start for bi related research curated by UK researchers into bisexuality: www.biuk.org

Grant Denkinson