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Chemistry: Introduction


Navigating the Chemistry Literature

What kinds of resources do chemistry researchers use? 

Primary Sources

Original accounts of scientific research: how scientists communicate their findings to the greater 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.
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. Introductory chapters typically start from a generalized perspective and can be useful for new readers to the field. In many cases, the research 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


Review Articles     

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 chemistry books, including broad overviews and narrowly focused monographs. 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.)

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, synthesized materials that are usually broad in scope and written by a large number of authors. Entries are summaries of other materials. 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 in chemistry, sometimes the term “dictionary” is used to refer to these property handbooks.
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