Chemical Engineering

Science Information Life Cycle

The ways in which scientific information is shared changes over the information life cycle. Click through the cards below to learn more about how science information is created, shared, and built upon within the scholarly community. Scroll further down to see definitions of the types of sources. 

Types of Sources 


Primary Sources

Original accounts of scientific research. These sources are how scientists communicate their findings to the scientific community. 

Research articles are typically published in academic journals and have most likely been through a peer-review process. They function as primary reports of research: scientists publish papers to share the results of their work. The language in articles is usually highly technical and assumes the reader is experienced in the field.
Preprints are early versions of research articles which have not yet been peer-reviewed. Scientists may choose to disseminate their research as preprints before submitting to an academic journal, which can make the research reported very cutting edge, but should be read critically as it has not yet been reviewed by other experts.
Proceedings papers are usually works in progress that are presented as lectures or posters at academic conferences. Depending on the organization, proceedings papers may or may not be peer-reviewed. In some cases, only the abstracts were reviewed. It is common for a conference presentation to be later published as a full research article.
Dissertations and theses are detailed accounts of research by graduate students. These documents are reviewed by a committee of university faculty before a degree is awarded. In many fields, the chapters will be also published as a journal article in a more concise form.
A patent for an invention grants intellectual property rights to the inventor. In order to obtain a patent, scientists must file technical information about the new invention, which is publicly disclosed for everyone to read.

Secondary Sources

Sources that analyze, evaluate, interpret, or otherwise discuss information originally presented elsewhere. These sources might be written by the same author as the primary sources, but are often times created by different scholars.

A review article is a peer-reviewed report which analyzes a body of research articles. They are usually narrow in focus and have extensive bibliographies. Review articles examine trends, replication of results, and future directions of the field. While reviews are written for a technical audience, they can be helpful for readers who are new to the subject because they condense a lot of previous research.
There is a wide scope of chemical sciences books, ranging from broad overviews to narrowly focused scopes. Scholarly books are useful for learning the foundations of the field; they often include a lot of detail that is omitted from research articles. Books can range from specialized to easily accessible for non-experts. (Some books are considered tertiary sources if they draw upon secondary sources.)

Tertiary Sources

Complied works that list or index primary and secondary resources for reference.

Databases are indexes of the contents of thousands of scholarly journals. When searching for a research paper, using a database enables readers to refine search queries and locate articles of interest. Databases typically only index journal articles, meaning that the full text of the paper itself is located in the journal.
Encyclopedias and dictionaries are organized compilations of information that are usually broad in scope and written by a large number of authors. These resources are a good place to look up quick facts, key concepts, and unfamiliar definitions of terms.
Compound property data are first reported in the primary literature. Later, book editors and database providers compile these data into tables and charts for easy reference. Many of these resources are now digital and include molecular structure search capabilities. Note that for chemical information, sometimes the term “dictionary” is used to refer to these property handbooks.
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