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Bio 1B Research Skills Guide: Scientific Literature: Publication types

Publication types

Publication Types

Primary literature

In the sciences, the primary literature:

  • is a first-hand report of the results of research activities
  • often includes analyses of data collected in the field or the laboratory
  • is very current (as of the date of publication) and highly specialized.

Examples of primary literature in the sciences include:

Secondary literature

The secondary literature:

  • summarizes and synthesizes the primary literature
  • is both broader and less current than the primary literature
  • is useful for getting an overview of a research area
  • is useful for finding citations to more information on a topic.

Examples of secondary literature in the sciences include:

  • literature reviews (or review articles) - More about literature reviews
  • monographs (books or book chapters dealing with a specific area of research in the sciences)

Tertiary literature

The tertiary literature:

  • deals with broad, discipline-level topics in the sciences (like biochemistry or evolution)
  • is a useful starting point for background information on a research topic
  • reports very well-established facts in the scientific literature
  • usually doesn't have an extensive reference list

Examples of tertiary literature in the sciences include:

  • encyclopedias
  • textbooks
  • handbooks

For more help

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Elliott Smith
Bioscience, Natural Resources &
Public Health Library