What is an Academic Paper?

The most important characteristic of an academic or scholarly paper is that it has to pass an academic quality assessment before it can be published in an academic journal (the DEFSA website is an authorised ePublication). Before an article is accepted for publication, it has to be reviewed by researchers working in the same field (referees). This control process is called peer-reviewing and is designed to guarantee the academic standard of an article.

What is an academic research paper?

An academic paper is not a social commentary, an opinion or a "blog". An academic paper begins with a thesis - the writer of the academic paper aims to persuade readers of an idea or solution to a problem based on EVIDENCE - not personal opinion.

Academic writing should present the reader with an informed argument. To construct an informed argument, you must first try to sort out what you know about a subject from what you think or feel about a subject.  You can begin by posing a question that will lead to your idea (in which case, your idea will be the answer to your question), or you can make a thesis statement. Or you can do both: you can ask a question and immediately suggest the answer that your essay will argue.

The research process is not simply collecting data, evidence, or "facts," then copy-and-pasting" this preexisting information into a paper. Instead, the research process is about investigation —asking questions and developing answers through serious critical thinking and thoughtful reflection. Most research involve at least a survey or questionnaire soliciting opinions from a reasonably-sized sample of relevant participants.

How are Academic Papers assessed?

  1. Is the Full Paper an accurate reflection of the title, abstract and keywords?
  2. Does the paper clearly state the problem, outcomes, findings or conclusions. Is the structure of the paper clear and logical?
  3. Does the paper clearly define the methodology, research tools and research questions?
  4. Does the paper include sufficient relevant theory and is such knowledge clearly portrayed and correctly cited?
  5. Does this paper present new knowledge or insights, and suggest future work in the field of design education.
  6. Are any parts of the paper weak or lacking, and how could these be improved?
  7. Have ethical requirements been addressed, including how the research was conducted.
  8. Does the paper adhere to the style guidelines?

In addition, papers presented at DEFSA Academic conferences are evaluated in a Double Blind Peer Review against the following criteria:

  1. Does the paper address the conference theme?
  2. Does the paper contribute to Design Education (or closely related) focus areas? It is important to note that papers must address issues related to design education such as knowledge production, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, and not designing or the design profession.
  3. Does the paper present an academically sound argument that contributes to original research output?

Elements of an academic paper


The abstract contains a short summary of the article as well as a description of the objective, method, result and conclusion of the study. Keywords (or subject words), which identify the contents of the article, are also given in the abstract. An abstract is between 300 and 500 words.

Full Paper

A Full Paper can contain up to 5 000 words, and consists of the following:


  • Briefly describe the focus of the overall paper and its main points
  • Highlight background information or issues necessary to understand the direction of the paper. The evaluator might not be from your field of design.
  • Define any key terminology need to understand the topic
  • Finish with your thesis statement

Research Method and material

  • The methodology and methods ought to be reasonable for and appropriate to that which is being studied.
  • Identify the methods used to identify and locate sources and the rationale used for selecting the sources to analyse. The detail should be sufficient so that the research process can be assessed, and reproduced by future researchers.
  • Explain the procedures used for analysing the data and arriving at findings.


  • Important data is given textual form preferably using tables and figures. Even unexpected or negative results are presented.


  • The discussion is an assessment of the results. Methodological considerations as well as the way in which the results compare to earlier research in the field are discussed.


  • Restate your thesis from the introduction in different words
  • Briefly summarise each main point found in the body of the paper (1-2 sentences for each point). Give a statement of the consequences of not embracing the position (argumentative paper only)
  • End with a strong clincher statement: an appropriate, meaningful final sentence that ties the whole point of the paper together


  • All documents mentioned in the article should be included in the bibliography so that the reader is able to refer to the original sources.

Referencing and citation

  • If you make judgments about something in academic writing, there is an expectation that you will support your opinion by linking it to what a published author has previously written about the issue.
  • Citing the work of other authors is central to academic writing because it shows you have read the literature, understood the ideas, and have integrated these issues and varying perspectives into the assignment task.
  • The importance placed on referring to other authors in your work can be reflected in the elaborate referencing conventions.
  • The abbreviated Harvard system of citation should be used. References should be published materials accessible to the public. Internal technical reports may be cited only if they are easily accessible (i.e. you give an Internet address within your citation). Proprietary information may not be cited.

DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

Critical skills endorsement

Professional Members in good standing can receive a certificate of membership, but DEFSA cannot provide confirmation or endorsement of skills whatsoever. DEFSA only confirm membership of DEFSA which is a NPO for Design Education in South Africa (https://www.defsa.org.za/imagine).