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Organizing a Literature Review

Article Types

What type of article are you looking for or looking at?

These categories are not rigid and some of them overlap.  Here are some characteristics to help identify the article type:

Open Access (OA)

  • Publications that are free to read and do not require a subscription to access. Gold OA is the publisher's final version; Green OA is when an author shares an earlier version. Read more about Open Access here.

Research articles:

  • typically published in a journal
  • highly likely to have been peer reviewed
  • structured like lab reports, with sections for:  the abstract or summary of the project, introduction and literature review, hypothesis or experimental question, method or procedure used, results and data gathered,  the analysis or interpretation of the data, and conclusions.
  • serve as the primary report of research. They are used by practitioners as a theoretical base for application of the information.
  • contain highly technical language for an experienced or educated audience
  • not every article in a peer reviewed journal is peer reviewed.  Many academic or research journals also include editorials, opinions, comments, conference summaries, and book reviews that are not peer reviewed.

Peer reviewed (or Refereed) articles:

  • articles that have been evaluated and critiqued by experts and revised in response, by the author(s) 
  • peer review is traditionally conducted anonymously by scholars external to the author's institution.  In "double blind peer review" the authors names are also concealed from reviewers. In "open peer review," the identities of authors and reviewers are not confidential and peer reviewers' comments are available to the public.
  • identified by the journal's editorial policies. Dates of submission of the manuscript draft, revision(s) by the author(s), and acceptance by the publisher are often included in the official publication, the "version of record"

PrePrint articles:

  • a version of a research article that is shared on a public repository prior to peer review
  • part of the scholarly record; each version may be assigned a doi (digital object identifier)
  • preprint repositories should link to the publishers' version-of-record when an article is formally published after peer review

Review articles:

  • summarize published literature about a topic, providing historical context for current research
  • may identify trends, replication of results, and hypotheses that need further research and testing
  • newer types of review articles (e.g. systematic review, scoping review, meta-analysis) use transparent and reproducible methods that minimize bias as part of the evidence-based synthesis

Conference papers:

  • may present "works in progress
  • In some cases the paper may be peer-reviewed, and sometimes only the abstract is peer-reviewed.  Conference papers might be published in conference proceedings, or the authors may wait to publish the complete version of the article in a peer-reviewed journal.

Technical reports: (not peer reviewed)

  • are structured like case studies: or "how I solved this problem."
  • They serve as a project report to the funding source, which may be a federal, state, or local government agency.  Tech reports are not always available; they may be kept proprietary, especially if client is a non-governmental corporation.

Trade publication articles: (not peer reviewed)

  •  frequently published in magazines or journals
  •  written for practitioners
  • They are structured informally, and they may contain lots of advertising and short news items providing up-to-date information about products, meetings and research.  Articles are brief and usually do not have references at the end.

Popular articles: (not peer reviewed)

  • published in magazines and and other news sources intended for non-specialist audiences
  • typically do not contain original research results

Websites, press releases, encyclopedia entries:

  • use with caution, and evaluate for authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage

What exactly is Peer Review?

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Is it a primary source?

Q.   What is a primary source?

A.   Primary documents are the original source materials.

In the sciences lab data, lab notebooks, and original test protocols are considered primary documents.  Source code and release notes, field observation notes or images are also primary documents.

Journal articles are primary or first reports of research.  Books, encyclopedias, and news articles are secondary (or later) sources because they describe what you will find in the primary sources.

Watch Pyrates: Truth be told for a perspective on primary sources in history!


Criteria for Evaluating a Resource

When evaluating a resource, whether it is print or internet-based, there are questions you can ask yourself to determine if it is high quality and a good match for your project or paper. These questions fall into the following 5 categories:

  • Authority
    Who created the resource? Are the author, organization, affiliations, and publisher clearly shown? If the page is web-based does it link to information about the organization? Does the author have credintials or expertise in the subject matter? Is the resource from a government agency, university, company, non-profit organization?

  • Accuracy
    Is the information contained in the source properly cited? Is there a bibliography or reference list? Can you verify the information in other sources? Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors? Is the statistical data clearly explained? Are charts and graphs properly represented and cited?

  • Objectivity
    Is the resource free of advertizing? Or, if there is advertizing, is it clearly seperate from content? Is there any bias? Is the sponsoring organization bias or motivated to report facts from a particular perspective?

  • Currency
    When was the resource created? When was it updated/ revised? Is it kept current? When was the information gathered?

  • Coverage
    Is the information complete? Does it cover the subject in depth? Does it match your information needs?

    These criteria were adapted from a worksheet used by Harvard University's Widener Science Library.


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