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BIOL 2003: Cell Physiology (Krieser): Understanding Scientific Literature

The Research Trifecta

The Research Trifecta

Database Search Tips

Quotation Marks vs. AND vs.OR

Before building a search, think about how you want to combine your search terms.

  • Putting words in quotation marks - if you want to search for a phrase rather than individual words, place the words in quotation marks. Example: "cell signaling"
  • Using AND to combine search terms -  when you combine terms using AND, you will retrieve results in which both terms appear somewhere in the fields searched. Example: Cell AND Signaling
  • Using OR to combine search terms - use OR to search for either word, which can broaden your results Example "cell attitude" OR "cell behavior"

A Nod to the Asterisk

  • Using an asterisk (*) at the end of a word will bring back variations of the word.
  • Example: cell* will retrieve results with the words cell, cellular, cellulose, etc.

Types of Research

Examples of Scientific Primary Research:

  • Article or conference proceeding reporting on a scientific study or experiment
  • Patent
  • Dissertations

A primary research article typically has the following format:

Titles indicate what the study is about, the author(s) & their credentials

Abstracts provide a brief summary of the article

Introduction/ Literature Reviews introduce the topic, reviews previously published research related to the topic, and states the hypothesis - a statement of what the researchers expect to find from their study.

Methods describe how the study was conducted which can include sample sizes, control variables, instruments and procedures used to collect data.

Results the findings of the study and whether the hypothesis were found to be true.

Discussions explains how results contribute to the existing body of scientific knowledge, lists limitations of the study and suggests areas for new research.

Conclusions recap the results and discussion section.  

References/Bibliography list the sources the authors consulted when writing the article. This section is very useful for finding additional articles related to your topic.

--Source:  Subramanyam, R. V. (2013). The art of reading a journal article: Methodically and effectively. Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. 17(1): 65-70. doi: 10.4103/0973-029X.110733

Examples of secondary research include:

  • Review Article

Tips to Recognize Secondary Research

These sources are one step removed from the event -meaning that the author(s) of the article are summarizing or analyzing past research in a subject area. Review articles will have a reference list at the end, which will provide citations to the primary research discussed.

Where to find secondary sources:

Examples of Tertiary Sources include:

  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Books
  • Popular magazine articles
  • websites

Tertiary research often provides background information on a topic, which tends to be broad and written for those new to a field of study. These resources typically are not considered scholarly

Where to fine tertiary sources: