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Finding Primary Research Articles in the Sciences: Home


This guide goes over how to find and analyze primary research articles in the sciences (e.g. nutrition, health sciences and nursing, biology, chemistry, physics, sociology, psychology). In addition, the guide explains how to tell the difference between a primary source and a secondary source in scientific subject areas.


If you are looking for how to find primary sources in the humanities and social sciences, such as direct experience accounts in newspapers, diaries, artwork and so forth, please see  Finding Primary Sources in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Recommended Databases

To get started, choose one of the databases below.  Once you log in, enter your search terms to start looking for primary articles. 

Login Required

You must log in to use library databases and eBooks. When prompted to log in, enter your Passport credentials. 

If you have trouble, try resetting your Passport pin, sending an email to, or calling the Help Desk at 863.292.3652

You can also get help from Ask a Librarian

Search Tips

Keep your search terms simple.

  • No need to type full sentences into the database search box.  Limit your search to 2-3 words.
  • There is no need to type "research article" into the search box.

Use the "Advanced Search" feature of the database.

Re-read the assignment guidelines often

  • Does this article satisfy the scope of the assignment (e.g. a study focused on nutrition)?
  • Does it meet the criteria for the assignment (e.g. an original research article)?

Not finding what you are looking for?

Search and Find a Primary Research Article

Are you looking for a primary research journal article? If so, that is an article that reports on the results of an original research study conducted by the authors themselves. 

You can use the library's databases to search for primary research articles. A research article will almost always be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Therefore, it is a good idea to limit your results to peer-reviewed articles. Click on the  Advanced Search-Databases tab at the top of this guide for instructions. 

The following is _not_ primary research:

Review articles are studies that arrive at conclusions after looking over other studies. Therefore, review articles are not primary (think "first") research. There are a variety of review articles, including:

    • Literature Reviews
    • Systematic Reviews
    • Meta-Analyses 
    • Scoping Reviews
    • Topical Reviews
    • A review/assessment of the evidence

Having trouble? Look for a method section within the article. If the method section includes the process used to conduct the research, how the data was gathered and analyzed and any limitations or ethical concerns to the study, then it is most likely a primary research article. For example: a research article will describe the number of people (e.g. 175 adults with celiac disease) who participated in the study and who were used to collect data.

If the method section describes how the authors found articles on a topic using search terms or databases, then it is mostly likely a secondary review article and not primary research. If there is no method section, it is not a primary research article.

Other sections in a journal: 

Your search may yield these items, too. You can skip these because they are not full write-ups of research:

  • Editorials
  • Letters
  • Conference Proceedings 
  • Symposium Publications

Example of a primary research article found in the Library's Academic Search Complete database: (these authors conducted an original research study)

Example of a secondary article found in the Library's Academic Search Complete database: (these authors are reviewing the work of other authors)

How do I know if this article is primary?

You've found an article in the library databases but how do you know if it's primary? 

Look for these sections: (terminology may vary)

  • abstract - summarizes paper in one paragraph, states the purpose of the study
  • methods - explaining how the experiment was conducted (note: if the method section discusses how a search was conducted that is _not_ primary research) 
  • results - detailing what happened and providing raw data sets (often as tables or graphs)
  • conclusions - connecting the results with theories and other research
  • references - to previous research or theories that influenced the research

Scan the article you found to see if it includes the sections above. You don't have to read the full article (yet). Look for the clues highlighted in the images below. 

primary articles

primary article clues

primary article references

Questions? Use Ask a Librarian


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