Skip to Main Content

Gerstein Science Information Centre

CSB201: Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and You

To help CSB201 students find resources for the poster project.

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.

In the sciences, a Journal Article is sometimes called a Scientific Article, a Peer-Reviewed Article, or a Scholarly Research Article. Together, journal articles in a particular field are often referred to as The Literature.

Journal articles are most often Primary Research Articles. However, they can also be Review Articles. These types of articles have different aims and requirements. Sometimes, an article describes a new tool or method.

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 topic. 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.

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.

What is Peer Review?

What Counts as a Scholarly Source?

Scholarly sources are typically written by academics, professionals and other experts and contribute to knowledge in a particular field by sharing new research findings, theories, analyses, insights, news, or summaries of current knowledge.

Popular sources are written by reporters, journalists and others, and are meant to be read by the general public or pretty much anybody at all. Scholarly sources include in-depth research and original research, whereas popular sources include non-technical information, entertainment, and general interest information. 

In scholarly sources, you will see bibliographies and references. In popular sources there are occasionally shorter bibliographies and references called “Additional Sources.” Examples of scholarly sources include the journals Cell and Nature Cell Biology. Some popular sources are the magazines Scientific American and Popular Science.

Scholarly sources can also come in many different formats. Books, articles, and websites can all be scholarly. Remember, there is sometimes a difference between scholarly and peer-reviewed articles; all peer-reviewed sources are scholarly, but not all scholarly sources are peer-reviewed.

Primary Research

The most common type of journal article you will find in the sciences deals with primary research. A primary research article is a type of scholarly article that introduces new research, data, or analyses. It describes an original experiment or analysis that adds to current knowledge on a particular topic. It may or may not be peer-reviewed.

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. They are authored by experts in the topic area, and you may use the reference list to find primary sources on the same topic.

You will be able to recognize a primary article based on a few key sections. Most primary articles will include a materials and methods section, a results section, a discussion section, and a reference list.

Secondary Sources

Scholarly sources can be primary or secondary research. Primary sources are sources in which researchers are reporting their own original research. This can include conference papers, journal articles, or books, written by researchers focusing primarily on one topic from their research. Secondary sources summarize the results of research and data from multiple authors or sources. This includes review articles, encyclopedias, textbooks, websites, blogs, and popular magazines.

Review Articles

Image: Aroid / Flickr

Journal articles are most often primary research articles. However, they can also be review articles. Review articles are a special kind of secondary source.

Review articles synthesize current research on a specific topic. They are scholarly articles that summarize and synthesize the results of other articles, including primary articles. 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. Review articles are often located in the same journals as primary research articles, but are considered secondary sources because they do not report original research.

Review articles do not introduce new research or data and they do not usually contain a methods section or many tables and figures. They are however, authored by experts in the topic area and they may or may not be peer reviewed. You may wish to use the reference list of review articles to find primary sources on the same topic.

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.

Examples of Review Articles

Peer Review in 3 Minutes

How do articles get peer reviewed? What role does peer review play in scholarly research and publication?