Primary Literature and Internet Searches
I. Reading Primary Literature
Scientific discoveries and insights are made daily.
This information is only
worthwhile if it is available to the entire scientific community.
Therefore, the ability to
communicate accurately and clearly, yet with brevity is integral to science.
information may be presented in written form in different ways, in peer-reviewed
journals, dissertations, meeting abstracts, often called compendiums, in technical reports
from private or governmental organizations, and in books.
There are two basic categories
of scientific literature, primary and secondary.
Primary sources include written
communications of original work.
They detail an experimental study in which scientists have supported a
particular hypothesis or hypotheses.
Secondary sources are based on primary literature.
They may include
review articles, journals, or books that summarize what is known in a particular area or field.
sources may be written for the scientist, non-scientist, expert, or novice, while primary literature is targeted
to the scientific expert and may require more than basic knowledge of the field of study.
Articles from primary literature usually include the following sections: abstract, introduction,
materials and methods, results, discussion, and literature cited.
The abstract summarizes the study in a
paragraph, and is read first when one is searching for primary literature on particular topics.
This aids the
researcher in narrowing the number of papers that they may wish to read.
The introduction highlights the
background information necessary to understand the study presented, but in a specialized
Novices should refer to secondary sources or textbooks first to familiarize
themselves with the scientific area and its terminology. The materials and methods
section highlights the experimental design, including the protocols used to complete the
experiments, collect the data, as well as information on how the data was analyzed.
detailed procedures are not given, references are cited to refer the reader to detailed
The results section presents the actual scientific data in written and graphic
Finally in the discussion section, the authors present the analysis and interpretation
of the data, insights into the subject based on their study, as well as report future endeavors.
expounds upon what is known in the field in light of the present study, as well as presents alternative
Lastly, the literature cited section highlights all the literature that was used to provide reference
support for the study.
It ensures that
proper credit is given
for information used from other sources.
The ability to search for and read scientific literature is an integral part of success in science.
embarking on a scientific project, it is best to look for review articles or books on the subject of interest.
They help to narrow the search for primary sources, especially if the literature is prolific. It is particularly