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BMB 448: Model Systems and Approaches in Cell Biology Inquiry

Primary Research Articles vs. Review Articles - How can I tell the difference?

Differentiating between original research articles and review articles can be a bit tricky.  Both types of articles are considered "scholarly" and appear in peer reviewed journals.  However, it is an essential skill in the sciences to be able to differentiate between the two types of articles.  Below is information to assist you in determining what type of resource you are viewing. 

Primary Research Articles vs. Review Articles

  Characteristics Examples
Research Article

Author(s) present new set of findings from original research after conducting an original experiment.

Typically contains the following distinct sections:

  • Methods (possibly the variation Methods & Materials)
  • Results (including charts, graphs, and statistical tables)
  • Discussion

Yoo S, Nair S, Kim H, Kim Y, Lee C, Lee G, Park J.  2020. Knock-in mutations of scarecrow, a Drosophila homolog of mammalian Nkx2.1, reveal a novel function required for development of the optic lobe in Drosophila melanogaster.  Dev Biol. [accessed 2020 August 17]; 461(2): 145-159.

Review Article

Author(s) analyze and summarize existing research.

Often focus on a general topic and bring together all relevant, useful articles on that topic in one article.

Do not contain sections such as Methods or Results because they did not conduct original research.

References within a review article can help you locate primary research articles on a topic!

Nishihara S. 2020.  Functional analysis of glycosylation using Drosophila melanogaster.  Glycoconj J. [accessed 2020 August 17]; 37: 1-14.


How to Read & Use Scholarly Scientific Articles

Primary scientific articles can be difficult to read and understand.  As burgeoning scholars it is vital that you develop reading strategies early on to help you use scientific literature. Click on the links below to learn the common structure of scientific articles and how to navigate them for efficiency and comprehension.

Take a dictionary with you! 

When you are just getting started in a discipline, one of the most difficult things about reading the literature is understanding the language.  Using scientific dictionaries and encyclopedias to look up unfamiliar terms can be hugely helpful. 

Use the resources below to assist you as you read:

Suggested Reading Strategy

  1. Abstract
    • Gives you a brief overview of what the paper is about. 
    • Use the abstract to help you decide if the article is relevant to your topic and to brainstorm search terms.
  2. Discussion
    • Summarizes important results.  This is where the author(s) connect the dots - what does this research actually mean to the larger picture?
    • Ask if the results are relevant to your research.  If not, you might want to scrap the article.
  3. Introduction
    • Explains the motivation & importance of the research, along with the prior research done on this topic.
    • Do you understand the background information?  If not, this is the time to go back & look up pertinent info.
  4. Results
    • This is where you'll find the raw data, along with figures & tables.  You must be able to understand the charts to interpret the data.
  5. Methods
    • Explains how the researchers conducted their study.  Could give you ideas on how to conduct your own research study.
    • Always critically evaluate the methods researchers used.  Think about what you've learned from your professors in class.

Remember that reading scientific literature is not easy, even for experts.  Having a strategy, along with making sure to look up concepts and terms you don't understand, can be hugely helpful.  The above strategy is recommended but developing your own based on your knowledge about what each section contains and what you need to know is key!