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How to solve a problem like researching for your first science assignment!

1. What will we learn in this section?

We will cover:

  • What journal and journal articles are.
  • Why they are important sources.
  • What are the different article types.
  • When to use different article types.

2. What are journals and journal articles?

You need to understand what journals and journals articles are before you can understand the importance of the source

Academic journals are publications that bring together research papers and articles written by researchers from a particular field, subject or discipline. Think of these as magazines for academic researchers - each publication has a theme or title that helps researchers to identify where their research would fit best, with each issue focusing on a different sub-topic within this area.

A journal article is the individual papers, written by researchers, that report on the findings on research projects.

An original research article is also know as a primary source as the writers are doing an original piece of research e.g. an experiment or testing a theory.

A review article is also know as a secondary source as the writers are summarising up other researchers work and not doing an original experiment. They are basing their article outcomes on the balance of evidence from the articles that they had read in the creation of the review article.

3. Why use academic journals?

Academic journals are written for a range of readers with a varied level of experience and knowledge.

Journals can range from being incredibly broad with articles covering multiple subjects to being incredibly narrow and articles specialising on one subject. Within the journal, you can find articles of varying length which focus on a specific issue, challenge or development.

There are different types of articles published in journals. For example, two common article types are: 

  • Review articles that summarise a range of ideas from other journal articles about a specific topic.
    • These are classed as secondary sources.
  • Original research articles that test an idea and report on the findings.
    • These are classed as primary sources.

Articles are a rich source of data.

The choice of terminology can range from common, technical, medical and specialist depending on the intended audience. When reading articles, if you find a new term, theory or process you may need to clarify what it means to make sure you understand the article fully.

Journal articles are an important sources of information because:

  • they are where the current research is published
  • they are written by experts
  • they are up to date
  • they are where knowledge is discussed and bought to the community 

but there are other reasons and this forms the basis of the next activity!


                             Activity 1: Answer the question below and you will receive feedback based upon your answers

4. Where to begin

Where should I begin with journal articles?

Begin by reading review articles to help build up your knowledge and then move onto original research articles. Original research articles may be a little harder to read as they are written by experts within a field and assume a level of understanding that other researchers in this field have as standard.

Sometimes you have to trust your judgement which can be hard to trust if you are new to reading articles.

Here are a few excellent sources to help build up your science knowledge and develop reading stamina for journal articles.

5. Know your journal article types

Different types of articles

There are lots of different types of journal articles.  It is useful to understand this and know what article type you are reading when you are reading it!

It can be difficult when you first begin working with journal literature to work out what type of article you are reading. There are visual clues that you can tap into:

  • the article type may be mentioned in the article title.
  • there may be information under the abstract that lists what type of article it is.
  • there may clues in the abstract.


                             Activity 2: Put this knowledge into practice! Decipher what article types the following articles are.

  • There are three articles below. Click on the link to go to the article in Library Search.
  • You need to read the article to answer the question.
  • You access the full text by clicking on the Find Online box and then clicking on the journal provider for the article. Y
  • If prompted, you may need to login with your Hallam login to access the full text.
  • The answer is available in the More... section under each article.

Are there other article types?

That is a great question! There are multiple different article types. You can find out more about other article types using the resources linked below.

6. When to use review articles

Using review articles is a really good way to get into a new subject straight away!

We recommend using databases like PubMed or the Royal Society of Chemistry Journals to find review articles because they have additional search filters like article types that you can apply to your search. It is a very quick way to find subject specific review articles and other article types!

Some assignments will specifically say that you should not use review articles to answer your research question.

Why not use Library Search to find review articles?

The review filter in Library Search is not as accurate as the review filters in databases. Sometimes your search results will include book reviews. Save your research time by using review filters in databases.

One of the quickest ways to find a review article is to use a specialist databases* like:

  • PubMed
  • Royal Society of Chemistry Journals

Or a large journal article database which covers a broad range of subjects

  • Web of Science
  • Scopus
  • ScienceDirect

*There are other databases you could choose to use and they are all listed in the:

  • Journals and specialist resources like databases section of the Biosciences and Chemistry subject guide.

If you would like to find out about all the databases the library provides you can find them all listed on the:

  • A-Z List of databases.  

7. When to use primary articles

Use primary articles when you need the most up to date information

There are other times when primary articles are the most useful sources of information.

  • When you need to understand a process or method.
  • When you need to read the landmark paper that first discovered or shared a method or theory.
  • When you are doing a similar experiment.
  • When you want to know how others have approached a research questions and solved the issue.

Some assignments will specifically say that you can only use primary articles to answer your research question.

Many databases and Library Search do not have a primary article filter. This means you need to decode the article abstract for yourself to understand if the article is primary.

8. When to use systematic reviews

Use systematic reviews articles when want an overview that covers a high volume of sources to resolve a research question

There are other times when systematic articles are the most useful sources of information.

  • When you are researching a health based assignments.
  • When you want analysis of lots of other articles.

There are not systematic reviews for all subjects as this article type is used more in some areas than others. Below you can find sources that can help you find systematic reviews.

9. Take a break

Congratulations you have completed four sections! 

Why not take time to learn a new skill? There are lots of resources in the library that can help!