Materials Science and Engineering

Types of Literature Sources

There are many types of sources that make up the science literature. Each type plays a unique role in knowledge creation and sharing. Click on the entries below to learn more about these types of sources.

🎓 = almost always peer reviewed

⚖️ = sometimes peer reviewed


Primary Scholarly 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Preprints are early versions of research articles which have not yet been peer-reviewed.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 their work to an academic journal. Preprints may present cutting edge research, but should be read critically because they have 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 conference organization, proceedings are sometimes peer-reviewed, but not always. It is common for a conference proceeding to be later published as a full research article.
Dissertations and theses are detailed accounts of research by graduate students at the end of their degrees. These documents are reviewed by a committee of university faculty before a degree is awarded. In many fields, chapters from dissertations will be also published as a journal article in a more concise form.

Secondary Scholarly Sources

Sources that analyze, evaluate, interpret, or otherwise discuss information originally presented elsewhere.

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 into one document.
There is a wide variety of chemical sciences books, ranging in subject scope and reader expertise level. Scholarly books are useful for learning the foundations of the field because they often include a lot of detail that is omitted from research articles.

Tertiary Reference Sources

Complied works that list, index, or organize primary and secondary resources for reference. These types of sources are not usually credited to any particular author.

Databases are indexes of thousands of scholarly journals and other sources. Databases tag articles with keywords and data to make them searchable. They include powerful filtering tools so that you can refine your search results and locate sources of interest. Databases typically only index journal articles, meaning that the full text of the paper itself is located in the journal and not the database.
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 data into tables and charts for easy reference. Many of these resources are now digital and include molecular structure search capabilities.

Non-Scholarly Sources

Outside of scholarly works, you may also find useful information for your research in the following kinds of sources. Be sure to assess these sources for biases and credibility when you use them for scientific discussions.

A patent for an invention grants intellectual property rights to the inventor. In order to obtain a patent, scientists must publicly file technical information about the new invention. Patents are primarily legal documents, rather than information-sharing documents.
A technical standard is an established norm, method, or requirement that is formalized by experts. Standards are commonly used in industrial settings to establish a uniform way of doing something and ensure quality, reliability, and safety.
Trade publications are frequently called "journals" or "magazines." They are usually written by and for practitioners in a field, like industrial chemists or polymer engineers. These publications are usually focused on news and trends in the field and often include discipline-specific jargon. They are structured informally and they contain lots of advertising. Articles are typically brief and usually do not have references at the end.
Many governmental departments publish reports, statistics, data, meeting/hearing transcripts, consumer information, and more. Several agencies are involved in scientific work and develop scientific reports.
Newspaper articles and popular science magazines are typically written by journalists for the general public in non-technical terminology. These articles rarely include a bibliography but instead are usually fact-checked by editorial staff of the publication.
Many scholarly journals also publish editorials, opinions, and perspectives from scientists. These sources often look like calling attention to a pressing issue, reflections on past research, or predictions of the future direction of the field. These types of articles are not usually peer reviewed, but they can offer insight into science and scientists.

Science Information Life Cycle

How do these different types of sources fit together? The ways in which scientific information is shared changes over time in 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.

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