University of Maryland University College Library

Research Guide for Sciences: Primary Research Articles

Primary Research Articles

How Can I Find Primary Research Articles?

Many of the recommended databases in this research guide contain primary research articles (also known as empirical articles or research studies). Search in databases like ScienceDirect and MEDLINE.

Primary Research Articles: How Will I Know One When I See One?

Primary Research Articles 
To conduct and publish an experiment or research study, an author or team of authors designs an experiment, gathers data, then analyzes the data and discusses the results of the experiment. A published experiment or research study will therefore look very different from other types of articles (newspaper stories, magazine articles, essays, etc.) found in our library databases. The following guidelines will help you recognize a primary research article, written by the researchers themselves and published in a scholarly journal.

Structure of a Primary Research Article
Typically, a primary research article has the following sections:

  • Abstract
    • The author summarizes her article
  • Introduction
    • The author discusses the general background of her research topic; often, she will present a literature review, that is, summarize what other experts have written on this particular research topic
  • Methods
    • The author describes the study she designed and conducted
  • Results
    • The author presents the data she gathered during her experiment
  • Discussion
    • The author offers ideas about the importance and implications of her research findings, and speculates on future directions that similar research might take
  • Literature Cited
    • The author gives a References list of sources she used in her paper

The structure of the article will often be clearly shown with headings: Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion.

A primary research article will almost always contains statistics, numerical data presented in tables. Also, primary research articles are written in very formal, very technical language.

Because primary research articles are written in technical language by professional researchers for experts like themselves, the articles can be very hard to understand. However, if you carefully review the introduction, results, and discussion sections, you will usually be able to understand and use one or two main ideas that the author is trying to get across, like why their experiment is important, and what results they discovered. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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