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What is the primary literature? Scientists who conduct original research

What is the primary literature?
Scientists who conduct original research use the primary literature (a.k.a., “scientific journals”) as an avenue to present the results and conclusions of their research to the scientific community and general public. Primary literature is different from publications such as magazines and newspapers in that all articles in a scientific journal are “peer reviewed.” This means that for a researcher to publish an article in a scientific journal, the article must be deemed appropriate by other scientists (typically 3-4) who are experts in the specific area that the article covers. Reviewers judge articles on the basis of their relevance, originality, validity of methods and statistical analyses, and quality of results/conclusions. Depending on the journal, these requirements are often quite stringent. If accepted, the process of publishing articles (from submission to acceptance) in peer-reviewed journals may take several months to a few years.

The format of scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals varies from journal to journal. However, most primary articles in the biological sciences are divided into the following sections: 1) an ABSTRACT, which summarizes the entire article; 2) an INTRODUCTION, which states the relevance of the author’s research to past research and current hypotheses, or other pertinent info; 3) a METHODSsection, which outlines what the researchers did (this section typically includes: description of study sites/facilities; the data they collected; how they collected their data; how they analyzed their data; how they intend to test their hypothesis; etc); 4) a RESULTS section, which summarizes the results of their data collection/experimentation; 5) a CONCLUSIONS and/or DISCUSSION section, which describes the significance of the results they collected; and 6) a LITERATURE CITED section, which cites all of the references (typically all from the primary literature) they cited to support statements they made in the text of their article.

Students will be required to do the following:
1) Use on-line library resources (e.g., EBSCO) to search for primary research articles covering an area of personal interest/relevance from the biological primary literature.
2) Read, interpret, and critically assess the relevance, methodology, results and conclusions of research articles.
3) Summarize and evaluate research presented in a selected article.

Research assignment expectations and schedule:
1) Each student should have an appropriate primary research article selected by the following date: Friday, November 12th.  Ideally, students should be able to select a topic that is of personal interest. Consult your instructor for ideas, appropriate topics, and suitable journals.  Students should not wait until the last minute to select an article.  If you are unsure whether or not you selected a primary research article, please feel free to email me a pdf of the article and I can verify whether or not it is appropriate for our assignment.

3) Students must submit an article report (see below for format). LATE SUBMISSIONS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED FOR FULL CREDIT.  Your report must be typed, double-spaced, 10-12 font, with 1 inch margins in a Word document. Type your name on the 1st line of page one (left-justified).

The second line should include the proper article citation (use the following format): 

Authors. Article Date. Article Title. Journal Name Volume #: Pages.

For example: 

Review of:  Morrell, T.E., and S.M. Aquilani. 2000. Nest-site selection of Red-tailed Tropicbirds on Rose Atoll, American Samoa. Journal of Field Ornithology 71:455-459.

Article report requirements (50 total points):
These questions are intended to get you thinking about the paper and to provide directions that you might explore in your analysis. Try to be as critical as possible when answering these questions.  Article reports should be 3-4 pages in length (see below for minimum length requirements for each question).  Your reports must be in the format listed below, with the answers to the following 8 questions clearly numbered and answered in sequence from 1-8. Failure to submit your report in this format will adversely affect your grade.

  1. Introduction: Theory and hypothesis. 
  2. What is the general biological area that is being addressed in the paper? (2.5 points; >3-4 sentences)
  3. Summarize the current accepted theory that covers the general biological question. Is there any disagreement among scientists? Explain(10 points; >4-5 sentences)
  4. Describe the specific hypothesis(es) that is(are) being tested in the paper. (2.5 points; >1-2 sentences)
  5. Methods. 
  6. Briefly describe the specific methods used in the paper and the overall experimental design. (10 points; >5-6 sentences)
  7. How well suited is the methodology for testing the hypothesis? Explain.   (5 points; >3-4 sentences)
  8. Results and conclusions. 
    1. Choose the most important figure or table and concisely describe the experiment being performed and the result of the experiment.  (5 points; at least 1 figure/table with a description/summary >3-4 sentences)
    2. Describe exactly how the results of the study lead to the reported conclusions. Does the data presented convincingly support the reported conclusions?  Explain.   (10 points; >5-6 sentences)
    3. Describe the next experiment that you would perform if you were conducting this research.  This might be an experiment designed to verify the conclusions of the paper, or may represent the next experimental question that should be asked. (5 points; >5-6 sentences)

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