Choosing a topic
Pick a topic that is interesting to you - it could be something you read in your Biology textbook or possibly in a newspaper or magazine. Some suggestions on places where you can find topics:
- Biology textbook - look at the table of contents of the end of each chapter for ideas or keyword
- Newspaper or magazine articles - the Tuesday section of the New York Times newspaper always has a special science section that might provide you with topics for further research
- Other Science news sites such as Yahoo Science News and Google Science News
- Websites - that list topic ideas
Primary Literature Assignment Description and Basic Parameters:
What is 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 METHODS section, 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 online 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.
From Professor of Biology Steve Aquilani’s research assignment.
Other helpful sites that discuss Primary Literature:
- The Literature of Science
Great information on the difference between primary and secondary literature.
- Scientific Literature
A helpful website from the UC-Berkeley library that describes various types of scientific literature from primary to tertiary literature.
Scholarly Information from the Web
Google Scholar allows you to search for scholarly articles online.