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BIOL 350 - Cell Biology / Nyland: What Do You Need?

Is This A Primary Research Article?

A research article - also known as a primary source - can be distinguished from its journalistic cousins by a few distinct features.  Make sure that if you are looking for a primary source article, that it fits both of the criteria below!


  • The abstract is full of active verbs:  we measured; we analyzed; I sampled; we collected; I surveyed; we dissected  - - all verbs that 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.

Assignment and research approach

Sometimes, a structured approach to research can help to organize ideas and the way you think about information sources.  This guide contains tabs that contain specific points of assistance. 

1. Explore topic basics & find current scientific scholarly conversations (Finding Primary Articles)
2.  Find supplemental / additional information on your topic (Secondary Literature / Reviews)
3. Review your sources and identify their specific points of relevance (Annotated Bibliography How-To)
4. Get additional help with writing or research  (Research & Writing Help)


Broadening & Narrowing Your Search(es)

If you are searching by taxonomic group..... Try using broader/narrower categories (Ex:  vertebrate / dog) or common names/scientific names (ex:  dog / Canis lupus)
If you are searching at a particular level of biology... Describe it at the appropriate level  (Ex:  molecules, cells, tissues, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystems,.....)
If you are searching for information in a specific geographic area... Describe it in a larger or smaller geographic context (Ex:  Amazon vs rainforest; Madagascar vs. Africa; Great Barrier Reef vs coral reef)
If you are searching for information in a specific discipline of biology.... Describe it in discipline-specific terms (Ex:  genetics; evolution; ecology; development; physiology; etc.)


Types of Scientific Literature

Primary Literature Secondary Literature
  • Tertiary Literature
  • Original research and/or new discoveries!
  • Research activities that have immediate results.
  • Data analyses from information collected in the field or generated in the lab.
  • Summaries of someone else's original research article.
  • A book covering scientific research that has happened in a specific area.


  • Condensed versions of materials under a single subject heading.
  • A piece that references primary or secondary literature sources.
  • "Overview" materials that summarize an entire subject in just a few pages.


Peer-reviewed & published journal articles


Technical reports

Conference Proceedings


A review of current trends in _____ (genetics; neurobiology; virology; etc.)







"Facts on File" type sites