With the start of the bachelor’s or master’s thesis, the search for sources and literature begins. You will usually be asked by the supervisor to use academic sources and to cite them correctly. But what are academic sources and may I not use sources from practice and if so, how do I cite them correctly? I am writing the article because I have noticed for hours in the last consultation hours that a large number of students think that practice sources must not be used. I want to clear that up.

What are academic sources?

The supervisor must have told you to use academic literature. But what is academic? Of the VHB-JOURQUAL3 is a ranking of economically relevant journals based on the judgments of the VHB members. The VHB4 should also come soon.

Over 1,100 members of the VHB have made a total of 64,113 reviews of magazines in the last few months. Of the 934 journals that were up for review, 651 journals exceeded the threshold of 25 reviews and received a rating. These are divided as follows:

  • 22 outstanding and globally leading scientific journals in the field of business administration (A + = 3.4%),
  • 72 leading academic business journals (A = 11.1%),
  • 217 important and respected scientific business journals (B = 33.3%),
  • 273 recognized academic business journals (C = 41.9%) and
  • 59 scientific business journals (D = 9.1%).

The advantages are that academic sources are carefully checked for quality by so-called reviewers and are therefore more mature than a journalistic article. Academic articles can be quoted at any time and you can choose one of the usual styles (APA, Havard Style, …). As a rule, you mark the source in the text as Lindner (2018) or, in the case of direct quotations: “Example text” (Lindner 2018, p. 5) with page number. You can collectively collect the sources using a tool such as Mendeley or Citavi and generate a list of sources. I am deliberately not explaining that software does all of the work for you.

Reading tip: Source management

Can I no longer use sources from practice?

I think fundamentally that practical sources are just as relevant and why should good sources from practice not be able to be used in the work? Of course, you should use such sources with a certain amount of caution and labeling. A practical source usually indicates a lack of quality control and often high subjectivity or journalistic background. I give three examples of how I use a practical source after an academic source:

Example 1: In the context of SMEs, the topic of big data is also being examined in a dedicated manner. Ivers et al. (2016) 152 SMEs from Ireland on the topic of Big Data. The results are that big data is viewed rather hesitantly due to the lack of financial power and the high costs of data protection. Niebler and Lindner (2019) express further concerns and risks in a practical specialist book and see them in the area of data protection, possible monitoring, manipulation and uselessness of the evaluations of big data. – taken from Lindner and Leyh (2019)

Example 2: Lindner et al. (2018) examined three SMEs in a study and found that work 4.0 scenarios such as remote work, agile methods, flextime, freedom of choice in IT, flexible employment contracts, home office and much more lead to a higher level of satisfaction among specialists as well as a successful Recruiting in SMEs can be achieved. A practical study by the recruiting company Hays (2018) shows that a lot is tested in the context of agility, but not everything works. taken from Lindner and Leyh (2019)

Example 3: In a study by the Federal Association of the German Aerospace Industry (2019) it was found that around half a million drones are currently in commercial use. A concrete example is above all DHL: According to an article in a trade journal, the company says that in field trials since 2014, parcels have been delivered with drones (DHL Paketkopter T3N 2018). taken from Lindner (2019)

It is important that you explain the sources correctly and classify them into academic and non-academic sources. They distance themselves from the sources and show the content neutrally. Undertone: Here reader: There are different sources that I present to you from academy and practice.

In any case, coordinate the use of practical sources with the supervisor beforehand, as some supervisors do not tolerate practical sources. This is a matter of opinion.

Reading tip: Literature analysis

How do I correctly quote sources from practice?

Sources from practice are often PDF’s, magazines or blog articles like this one. Basically, you quote exactly the same with the exception that you often specify a retrieval date. Example:

Wirtschaftswoche (2019) – Article name accessed on April 14, 2020. domain.de/article_name

Often you will not find the author’s name or the year. For the year you can either use the current year or the abbreviation for no year – example: Wirtschaftswoche (oJ) If you cannot find an author, then take a look at the URL or in the imprint of the website. For example, you could cite my blog article under Dominic Lindner or Agile-Unternehmen.de. You can also cite studies by Capgemini or Accenture simply by naming the company. Note: Check out the copyrights a little beforehand. For example, it is always possible to use graphics from academic papers (Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY 3.0) by naming them. You can always find the licenses on the pages of the journals. In the academy this is always this license in 99% of the cases. In practice books, the license belongs to the publishers and you should at least make sure that you are allowed to take it. If necessary, write to the author.

Reading tip: Quotes here in the blog


Practical sources are often a great addition and round off the work because they contain further relevant information. However, it is important to use them carefully and with a certain distance. In general, I think that any work should always present both practical and academic sources according to relevance. In my work, practical sources are always delimited by a note for the reader.


Lindner, D., & Leyh, C. (2019). Digitization of SMEs – questions, recommendations for action and implications for IT organization and IT service management. HMD – Praxis der Wirtschaftsinformatik , 22.


Federation of the German aerospace industry. (2019). The German drone market . Retrieved from https://www.bdli.de/meldung/der-deutsche-drohnenmarkt-hat-grosses-potenzial-deutschland-darf-aber-international-nicht. Seen 10.10.2019

T3N. (2018). DHL delivers parcels by drone for the first time. Retrieved from https://t3n.de/news/dhl-privatkunden-paket-drohne-705041. seen 07/18/2018

Niebler, P. & Lindner, D. (2019). Data-based decision-making – a guide for entrepreneurs and decision-makers. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

Lindner, D., Ludwig, T., & Amberg, M. (2018). Work 4.0 – Concepts for a new way of working in SMEs. HMD – Practice of Business Informatics , 55 (1)

Lindner, D. (2019). SMEs in digital change – results from empirical studies on work, leadership and organization. Wiesbaden: Springer Gabler.

Ivers, AM, Byrne, J. & Byrne, PJ. (2016). Analysis of SME data readiness: a simulation perspective. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development , 23 (1), 163-188. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSBED-03-2014-0046

[student] [fotolia]

I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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