Skip to main content

EESA01: Introduction to Environmental Science

A guide to resources for assignments in this course.

Recent research

When scientists have information or an experiment to add to the body of knowledge in their field of study, they usually write up their findings for inclusion in a scientific journal. Before it is published, these articles go through a process of peer review.

Because articles in scientific journals are specific, meticulously cited and peer-reviewed, journal databases are the best place to look for information on previous research on your species. Without a background in the field, journal articles may be hard to understand - however, you do not need to understand an entire article to be able to get valuable information from it.

Search tip: Reading a journal article may lead you to a number of other journal articles on closely related topics. When reading a journal article, mark the citations that you are interested in. Later, you can find those articles to continue your search.

Primary research

The most common type of journal article you will find in the sciences deals with primary research. These articles describe an original experiment or analysis that adds to current knowledge a particular topic. These articles will include background information, the methods the scientist used, a description of the results, and an analysis of what the results mean in the context of current knowledge.

Review articles

Review articles synthesize current research on a specific topic. Often an article will summarize past research, identify important people in the field, outline recent advances, and point out gaps in a body of knowledge - they do not report original research.

Review articles are a great resource if you're looking for an overview of a small topic, with complete and current information. Review articles are well-cited, so they can provide a starting point for more extensive research.

Evaluating journal articles

When deciding which articles to use to support ideas and arguments in your paper, keep these criteria in mind:

Accuracy

Is this article fact or opinion?

Are counter-arguments acknowledged?

Are the results accurate and are they supported by the data and methodology presented?

Does this support or contradict other articles?

Are references to other works given?

Authority

Is the author an expert in this field?

What other works has he/she written?

Can you find out more about the author?  What is his/her background?

Has this author been cited by others?

Bias

Some publications have an inherent bias that will impact articles printed in them. Can you determine this from looking at the journal?

Is the author's point of view impartial and objective? Are counter-arguments acknowledged?

Audience level What audience is the article designed for?

Is it too basic or too technical for your needs?
Currency Look at the publication date of an article. 

Credits

Content on this page has been re-used with permission from the Heather Cunningham's (Gerstein Science Information Centre's) Biology Library Research guide.

Scholarly sources & peer reviewed articles

You may hear your instructor or TA refer to 'peer reviewed' articles.

Consult Ulrich's Web if you want to check if a journal is peer-reviewed.

Recognising the difference between scholarly and popular publications is an important skill.

Reading a Scientific Article

Most scientific journals format their articles in a standard way; breaking them into clearly defined and labelled sub-sections.

If you are looking for a specific kind of information - think about which section might have the information that you need, and skip to that section. The Introduction and Discussion sections are good places to look for general information and an overview of the important issues.

The short videos on this page will help provide some additional tips to consider when reading articles.

Hints for reading scientific journal articles

How to read a scientific article II

Note-taking worksheet

The UTSC Writing Centre has great resources on reading articles and note-taking, including this form with questions to prompt your evaluation of a resource.