BIOL 409: General Microbiology (Finnerty)

What do you mean by primary source, peer review, and review paper?

Primary sources

Primary sources in science are those that report original data, i.e. they are the first report of new findings. These papers usually adopt the standard format of scientific manuscripts: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Protocols or Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion. The quickest and easiest way to determine if a scientific publication is primary source is to see if it includes a Protocols or Materials and Methods sections that describes the experiments in detail.

Peer review

Peer review is the process by which some manuscripts are reviewed for publication in a reputable scientific journal. Typically, an author will submit an unsolicited manuscript to a journal for publication. The first judgment is made by an editor, who decides if the manuscript and the results it reports fall within the journal's focus and meet its standards for quality. If the manuscript passes the editor's judgment, it is sent out for peer review. These reviewers are usually other researchers in the authors' field who volunteer their time to review papers for the journal, and they typically remain anonymous to the submitting author. Only after the reviewers recommend a manuscript for publication is it likely to be accepted. The editor will make a final judgment based on the reviewers' comments and either

  • reject the paper
  • reject the paper but invite the authors to resubmit if substantial changes are made (typically because substantially more data are required to support the authors' claims).
  • accept the paper, often with minimal changes suggested

Review paper

Review papers are publications that do not report new scientific data, but rather collate and analyze what is known about a particular scientific topic. Review papers are often solicited from noteworthy scientists with established reputations in their field. Review papers are frequently not peer-reviewed, because they summarize research that has already passed through peer review. A recent review paper is critical for you to come quickly up to speed on you presentation topic. The citations listed in the review paper will be invaluable to identifying additional references for your own presentation bibliography. Our library subscribes to several periodicals that specialize in review articles, such as the Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology and the Annual Review of Microbiology.

READ: Criteria for Identifying Types of Articles

Article databases index both popular, professional/trade, and scholarly journals (or peer reviewed).
Peer reviewed or refereed articles refers to the process in which articles are reviewed by professionals in a field of study before being published. A journal's website should explain the publishing process and if it is peer reviewed or not. Many times professors use the term peer reviewed and scholarly articles synonymously.


AUTHOR Researcher, scholar, or specialist with expertise in the subject; author's credentials are provided Journalist or staff writer; paid to write articles; may or may not be an expert in the subject Usually practitioners and professionals in the field (has subject expertise)
AUDIENCE Experts, scholars, researchers, professors and students in the field General public       Professionals in the field; may appeal to the general public
PURPOSE In-depth report of original research/findings written by the researcher; communicate scholarship Current events and general interest stories; may report about other's research; to entertain and inform Report current news, trends, and products about a specific industry; share practical information for professionals in the field
TONE Scholarly or technical jargon or terminology Accessible and readily understood by a larger audience. Professional jargon or terminology
REFERENCES Sources are cited in a bibliography, references, endnotes, or footnotes Rare Few, if any, sources cited
REVIEW Refereed or reviewed by scholars in the field Editor Editor
LENGTH Usually 5+ pages; often includes an abstract, goals and objectives, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion Usually short, a few pages Usually short, a few pages
ADVERTISING Little to none; occasional ads for professional organizations or publications Numerous ads for a variety of products and services Many ads for products, services, and organizations related to the profession or trade
FREQUENCY Issues published quarterly, semi-annually, or annually Issues published weekly or monthly Issues published weekly or monthly
EXAMPLES Journal of Robotics Journal of Romance Studies Journal of Roman Studies Business Week Rolling Stone Time American Libraries Chronicle of Higher Education Publishers' Weekly
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION A book review or editorial published in a scholarly journal does not fit the criteria for a scholarly article.