Welcome to your guide for conducting research in the Health Sciences! This guide is designed to walk you through the 5 steps of conducting research, from determining your topic to writing and citing your paper. Please follow the tabs in order from left to right as you work through the guide. You can ask a librarian for help by using the chat box to your right or email me directly with questions or for additional assistance.
n“The term scientific literature refers to theoretical and research publications in scientific journals, reference books, textbooks, government reports, policy statements, and other materials about the theory, practice, and results of scientific inquiry. These materials and publications are produced by individuals or groups in universities, foundations, government research laboratories, and other nonprofit or for-profit organizations.”(1)
Scientific literature can be broken down into 3 categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. You will be using each of these different information sources in the various steps of your research. An understanding of information source types will make your research both easier and more thorough.
Primary literature is published original research that has not been interpreted, condensed or evaluated by other writers. Examples include case studies and results of clinical trials.
Pros: Provides direct access to the researchers' reports of their study.
Cons: Can be difficult to sift through and interpret data; you must analyze the quality of the study.
Secondary literature includes resources that help you find and access the primary literature. Examples include indexing & abstracting services (such as Medline and other article databases) and review articles. The authors of review articles summarize the primary literature on a particular topic.
Pros: Can provide efficient and effective access to the primary literature.
Cons: Abstracting & indexing services have different interfaces and search conventions. Searching PubMed requires different search techniques than searching the Science Citaton Index, for example.
Secondary literature often provides citations and abstracts only, not access to the full text of the primary literature. The searcher often must retrieve the primary literature from another source, through either the Library's collection or interlibrary loan.
Tertiary literature includes works that distill and interpret the primary literature, often becomes the accepted common knowledge in a field, and can be found in textbooks, encyclopedias, and authorative, credible sites on the Web.
Pros: Provides an analysis and summary of the primary literature. Studies that are incorporated into the tertiary literature are well-conceived and significant to the field.
Cons: By the time tertiary literature is published it is usually out of date. Because primary literature is published much more regularly and expeditiously than tertiary literture, it is always outpacing it. Be sure to supplement your tertiary sources with a thorough search of the primary literature.