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BIO 151 Dr. Arsnoe

Library guide for Dr. Arsnoe's BIO 151 classes.

What is a scientific research journal?

science equipment

The scientific community shares research through the publication of scientific journals. Journals are periodicals published by associations, universities, or organizations focused in the discipline. These journals publish multiple types of articles. Most content published in scientific journals is original  works that have not been previously published in another journal. Manuscripts submitted for consideration go through a process of peer review prior to publication.

Academic journals vs. Popular magazines

Academic journals generally adhere to the following characteristics:

Authorship - Written by researchers and scholars in a particular field of study. Published by an organization, association, or university

Audience - Written for scholars in the field

Content - Articles are generally of the type listed below and contain citations for works consulted during their research.

Peer-review - Most academic journals put submissions through a process of peer review.


What types of articles are published in a scientific journal?

Original Research / Empirical Research

An "original" research article is a detailed account of research activity written by the scientists who did the research--not by someone else who is reporting on the research; it is a primary resource. Research articles include an abstract, introduction, background, methodology, figures and tables, results, discussion, and references.


One means of building upon and ensuring quality of the body of scientific knowledge, is ensuring that a study performed and published can be replicated successfully. Research scientists may elect  to replicate research studies as scientific advances are made, and the results of that replication may confirm or possibly draw into question, the original results.

Literature Reviews / Review Articles

These articles provide a comprehensive summary of published research on a particular topic and author perspective on the state and direction of research. Often used by researchers and scholars as a means of obtaining an overview of a particular area of study.


Brief articles that present novel findings from a limited study. May serve to explore new territory using existing techniques, strengthen an existing study's conclusion, or provide a starting point for future research and exploration. 

Evidence Synthesis

An Evidence Synthesis article should contain no new research but is a critical evaluation of existing information relevant to an identified policy question. It differs from a standard review in that the specific non-research audience is already identified and that the article is structured in a form tailored to its needs (The Royal Society, n.d.).

Theoretical Articles

"Theoretical articles use existing research to advance theory. The development of theory is traced in order to expand and refine theoretical constructs.  A new theory may be presented, or an existing theory may be analyzed to highlight flaws or showing the advantage of one theory over another.  A theory's internal consistency and external validity are examined in this type of article" (Ehrlich, 2019).

Case Studies

Reporting of specific instances of particular event or phenomena. Case studies provide a detailed background and analysis, alternatives and decision criteria, recommendations, conclusions and sources consulted.

Conference Proceedings

"A conference proceeding is the published record of a conference, congress, symposium, or other meeting sponsored by a society or association, usually but not necessarily including abstracts or reports of papers presented by the participants. When the entire text of the papers presented is included, the result is called transactions" (Thomsett-Scott, 2020).


These articles include perspectives, book reviews, letters to the editor, and other commentary and are not always peer reviewed.


Ehrlich, C. (2019, May 9). MVCC Libraries: How-To: Identify Types of Scientific Journal Articles: Scientific Journal Research. Mvcc.Libguides.Com; Mohawk Valley Community College. Science. (2018, January 31).

The Royal Society. (n.d.). Evidence synthesis | Royal Society Open Science. Royalsocietypublishing.Org. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

Science: Information for authors. Science AAAS.

Springer. (2019). Types of Journal Articles.

Thomsett-Scott, B. (2020, September 4). Conference Proceedings: What are Conference Proceedings? Penn State University Libraries.

How is an article selected and reviewed for publication?

About Peer Review

Most scientific and scholarly journal articles published go through an editorial process that involves peer-review. This information graphic from the International Journal of Computer Technology and Applications explains the peer-review process.

Peer review process explained

It is important to understand that while the process of peer-review helps ensure quality scientific content meeting the standards of the journal in which it is published, the process is not infallible. It is important to critically read and evaluate every source yourself, and use peer-review indicators as a flag for potential quality, rather than a 100% guarantee that the article is sound. 

Potential pitfalls of peer-review

  • Delays research process - It can cause lengthy delays in the dissemination of research findings.
  • It is a time and financially taxing process which places considerable demands on the academic community.
  • There has been extensive debate as to how effective the peer review process really is in detecting errors in academic papers.
  • It may be difficult to protect the anonymity of referees in very specialized research fields where there may be only a small number of experts.
  • Subject to bias of reviewers - It is sometimes accused of protecting established opinions and not being open to genuinely new ideas.
  •  Inconsistent - Review standards may not be consistent across publications.
  • Potentially subject to abuse by reviewers



Empirical - Pertaining to data or information obtained through experiment, experience, or observation, and which can be verified

Hypothesis -a tentative theory

Journal - a periodical containing scholarly articles and/or disseminating current information on research and development in a particular subject field

Manuscript - Refers to the content submitted by the author for consideration by the academic journal.

Peer Review - As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, peer review is "the process of someone reading, checking, and giving his or her opinion about something that has been written by another scientist or expert working in the same subject area, or a piece of work in which this is done".

Preprint -  "A preprint is a version of a scientific manuscript posted to a public server prior to peer review or formal publication in a scholarly journal. It is often the same manuscript submitted to a journal for peer review" (PLoS).

Qualitative Research - A type of research methodology that produces descriptive data, with little emphasis given to numerical quantification.

Quantitative Research - A form of research methodology in which experimental variables and relationships are assigned numerical value.

Staff editors - As described in an advice column in Science called Ask Alice "Scientific journal editors are often gatekeepers, determining what work other scientists see and how (and how well) it is presented. In peer-reviewed journals, reviewers usually decide what gets published—but editors may decide whether to even send a paper out for review".


Unless noted, these definitions are  adapted from the ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science