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.
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 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.
When deciding which articles to use to support ideas and arguments in your paper, keep these criteria in mind:
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?
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?
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.|
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.
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 video on this page will help provide some additional tips to consider when reading articles.
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.
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