As part of your university education you are expected to learn how to find and use scientific sources, that is reliable, peer-reviewed and research-based information. Scientific sources containing original and previously unpublished research are primary sources. Research results are most often published as articles in scientific journals, but they can also be published in scientific books and conference proceedings. There are also some secondary sources that could be considered as scientific publications. These include review articles, as well as some textbooks and dictionaries.
When using an academic database or search service, you can often limit your search to scientific publications by choosing to display only peer-reviewed sources in the search results. You should, however, always evaluate the source yourself to make sure that it really is scientific (see Evaluating your sources). This becomes even more important when the source is found through an informal channel, for example a website or a search engine.
A very important part of scientific publishing is the peer-review process, where the work is examined and evaluated by experts prior to publishing to ensure that the research is of good quality. This process generally takes months and usually results in substantial changes to the original manuscript.
Before publication in a scientific journal, articles have to go through peer-review. When an article is submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, the editors send it out to other researchers in the same field (the author's peers) to get their opinion on the quality of the work, its relevance to the research field and whether or not it fits the scope of the journal in question. The verdict of the peers will then decide whether the article is published or not, and if it needs any revisions.
In some disciplines and subjects, books and not articles are the most common form of research output. In some cases, these books undergo a peer-review process similar to the one for scientific articles. At other times, the book is reviewed by an editor, who may or may not be an expert on the subject in question.
Researchers also share their findings, ideas and experiences with each other at conferences. The published records of these conferences are called conference proceedings, and they usually include abstracts or reports of the papers presented by the participants. Beware that although these conference reports are often peer-reviewed, it is not always the case.
Open access (OA) publishing means that the publications are made available to readers free of charge. Instead, the authors are usually require to pay an Article Processing Charge (APC) which covers the cost of the publishing process. OA publishing is becoming more and more common in science, and the number of OA publishers and journals is steadily increasing. Although many OA publishers are perfectly OK (with peer review etc), the APC makes OA publishing a lucrative business for dubious publishers and journals (a.k.a. predatory journals).
To make sure that it is a serious (non-predatory) journal, see if the journal is listed in trusted databases such as Web of Science (Journal Citation Reports), Scopus (Sources) or PubMed. You can also check if the journal or publisher appears in online lists of serious OA journals and publishers such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).
Warning signs that you might be dealing with a dubious OA journal are: