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Chemistry Resources: Primary Sources and Original Research vs. Review Articles

Original Research vs. Review Articles. How can I tell the Difference?

Research vs Review Articles

It's often difficult to tell the difference between original research articles and review articles. Here are some explanations and tips that may help:

"Review articles are often as lengthy or even longer that original research articles. What the authors of review articles are doing in analysing and evaluating current research and investigations related to a specific topic, field, or problem. They are not primary sources since they review previously published material. They can be of great value for identifying potentially good primary sources, but they aren't primary themselves.

Primary research articles can be identified by a commonly used format. If an article contains the following elements, you can count on it being a primary research article. Look for sections titled:

Methods (sometimes with variations, such as Materials and Methods)
Results (usually followed with charts and statistical tables)

You can also read the abstract to get a good sense of the kind of article that is being presented.

If it is a review article instead of a research article, the abstract should make that pretty clear. If there is no abstract at all, that in itself may be a sign that it is not a primary resource. Short research articles, such as those found in Science and similar scientific publications that mix news, editorials, and forums with research reports, however, may not include any of those elements. In those cases look at the words the authors use, phrases such as "we tested"  and "in our study, we measured" will tell you that the article is reporting on original research."*



*Taken from Ithica College Libraries

Primary and Secondary Sources for Science

Primary and Secondary Sources for Science

In the Sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the human immune system. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists' research on the human immune system.

Primary Source

Secondary Source


Original materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a second party.

Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source.


Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle.

Secondary sources tend to come second in the publication cycle.

FORMATS--depends on the kind of analysis being conducted.

Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article and technical reports.

Review articles, magazine articles, and books

Example: Scientists studying Genetically Modified Foods.

Article in scholarly journal reporting research and methodology.

Articles analyzing and commenting on the results of original research; books doing the same



Primary Source

Secondary Source

  • Conference Papers
  • Correspondence
  • Dissertations
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Lab Notebooks
  • Notes
  • Patents
  • Proceedings
  • Studies or Surveys
  • Technical Reports
  • Theses
  • Criticism and Interpretation
  • Dictionaries
  • Directories
  • Encyclopedias
  • Government Policy
  • Guide to Literature
  • Handbooks
  • Law and Legislation
  • Monographs
  • Moral and Ethical Aspects
  • Political Aspects
  • Public Opinion
  • Reviews
  • Social Policy
  • Tables





Source: The Evolution of Scientific Information (from Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, vol. 26).



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