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Botany 101: Information literacy introduction: How to Read a Scientific Paper

How to Read a Scientific Paper


The following are a few guides to give you a few pointers in how to read a scientific paper:

Primary Resources in Science

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are original materials. These sources are from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation.  Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based.  They represent original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information.  Some types of primary sources in the sciences include:

  • Original research studies/journal articles that contain methods, materials, and results section describing an experiment or observation performed by the authors, such as a scientific research article
  • Patents
  • Proceedings of Meetings/Conferences
  • Records of Organizations/Government Agencies (Annual reports, treaties, Environmental Impact Statements, etc.)
  • Newspaper articles written at the time can be a primary source for historians or social scientists.

What is a secondary source?

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources.  These sources are usually one or more steps removed from the event.  Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.  Some types of secondary sources include:

  • Wikipedia articles, textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias, review articles (such as Annual Review of Plant Biology).

For more information on primary and secondary sources, the University of Maryland library provides a helpful and concise overview on the types of sources you will encounter while doing your research.