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BIOL 350: Cell Biology: What Kind of Source Do You Need?

Is It a Research Article?

So - you think you found a primary research article, but how can you be sure?

A research article - also known as a primary literature source - can be distinguished from its journalistic cousins by a few distinct features.  Before you decide which article(s) to use for your presentation, make sure they fit both of the two main criteria below:  

  • The abstract is full of active verbs:  we measured; we analyzed; I sampled; we collected; I surveyed; we dissected. These verbs make it clear that the author or authors of the paper actually DID something, and didn't just read about what other scientists did.  
  • The paper should be written in a clear, research-article style.  This means that it starts off with an abstract, and then has a Materials & Methods section, Results, Analysis, and then a formal Conclusion section.

When in doubt, ask me! I can help you figure out what kind of article you're looking at. 

What Are You Looking For?

There is a huge, HUGE difference in all of the information that exists out there in the big wide world.  There are journal articles (several different types), blog entries, letters to the editor, newspaper articles, edited chapters, entire books, the list goes on and on and on and on.

For this particular assignment, you need to find primary literature journal articles.

But what does that mean?  How could you differentiate the different information types that are out there if the two different ones were lying on the table in front of you?


In the world of the sciences, there are two primary information types that exist that you should know about and be able to distinguish easily between - primary sources & secondary (aka 'review') sources.

They are, as follows:

Primary source:  "In scientific literature, a primary source is the original publication of a scientist's new data, results and theories."  (Wikipedia)  You can frequently tell that a journal article is a primary source in that it has the basic components that have been drilled into you for so long now - Introduction.  Materials and Methods.  Discussion/Conclusion.  References.  


Secondary source:  "In scholarship, a secondary source is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere".

The History of Scientific Research Articles

In academic publishing, a scientific journal is a periodical publication intended to further the progress of science, usually by reporting new research. There are thousands of scientific journals in publication, and many more have been published at various points in the past. Most journals are highly specialized, although some of the oldest journals such as Nature publish articles and scientific papers across a wide range of scientific fields. Scientific journals contain articles that have been peer reviewed, in an attempt to ensure that articles meet the journal's standards of quality, and scientific validity. Although scientific journals are superficially similar to professional magazines, they are actually quite different. Issues of a scientific journal are rarely read casually, as one would read a magazine. The publication of the results of research is an essential part of the scientific method. If they are describing experiments or calculations, they must supply enough details that an independent researcher could repeat the experiment or calculation to verify the results. Each such journal article becomes part of the permanent scientific record. The history of scientific journals dates from 1665, when the French Journal des scavans and the English Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society first began systematically publishing research results. Over a thousand, scientific journals were founded in the 18th century, and the number has increased rapidly after that.