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SC 212 / 321 Introduction to Statistical Methods / Applied Regression Modeling: What is Primary Literature?

Find Journal Articles

Primary literature defined

  1. It is where the researcher published their findings first (i.e., the primary place the data is found).
  2. In science, it's usually a journal article outlining methodology, data, results, conclusions.
  3. It will always have a Literature Cited section.
  4. It is the researcher's own words, not summarized by anyone else.
  5. It is found in scholarly journals such as Animal Behaviour, Journal of Geology.
  6. The article will be peer-reviewed (refereed by other experts in the field before publication)

Secondary (review) articles

  • Summarize primary literature articles
  • Help to get a general overview of a topic
  • Written by authorities in the field
  • Often have the word "review" in the title (books as well as articles)

News articles (e.g., Time, New York Times, Natural History, Smithsonian)

  • Not primary literature
  • Might be primary source material for historical purposes however
  • Help identify current issue or organizations to follow up in other sources

Popular vs Scholarly (Peer-Reviewd)) Articles


Popular (newspaper or soft science articles, e.g., Natural History, Science News, National Geographic) Scholarly (e.g., J. Chem. Ecol., or Conservation Biology)
Publication process news editor peer-reviewed
Authors often journalists, names or credentials may be unknown, not necessarily any science background experts in the field, degrees may be given, institutional affiliations given
Illustrations colored pictures, attractive, glossy charts, graphs, data-rich
Terminology easy to understand jargon used in that field of study
Audience lay people or experts, accessible to the general public experts or students of that discipline
Format not uniform prescribed format includes abstract, methods, discussion, references
Length of article shorter; can be as short as one page generally longer; needs to be long enough to present results and discuss the problem
Literature Cited / References often not present must be present
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