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Biol 2220 Ecology Resources: About Scientific Literature


Popular vs. Scholarly

Professors often talk about using "scholarly" articles and avoiding "popular" sources. However, there are many sources that fall somewhere in the middle -- sources that reside between scholarly and popular. And all these sources can be helpful in their own ways. Popular sources can provide background information and context, while more scholarly information can provide hard evidence and compelling research. The following table describes popular and scholarly articles and the spaces in between. It might be more helpful to think of this as a spectrum rather than two diametrically opposed categories into which all sources must fit.


  Popular Sources Hobby Publications Trade Publications Scholarly Sources
Specificity General interest topics; news, entertainment Covers specific hobbies/interests Career-specific information Specific to a narrow area of research
Author Journalists Journalists Professionals in the field Experts
Audience EVERYONE People with similar interests/hobbies People who work in the same field Professionals and experts in the field
Reading Level 8th Grade or lower 8th Grade or lower Higher than 8th grade, may contain some jargon specific to subject area Lots of big words; lots of jargon; hard to read/understand
Purpose To entertain To inform To educate To move progression forward; to gain a new understanding of the subject area
Has an abstract? NEVER Occasionally Occasionally ALWAYS
Has a bibliography? NEVER Occasionally Occasionally ALWAYS
Examples USA Today, People Wired, Yoga Journal, Popular Science, Food & Wine Construction Worker, American Libraries Journal of American Medical Association, Journal of Hydrology

Primary vs. Secondary Research

In addition to distinguishing between popular and scholarly articles, you need to be able to understand if the scholarly articles you are reading are reporting primary research or secondary research.

Primary research articles report original research and results.  You will see the data and work that the authors produced. A primary source is an article that reports this.  Other primary sources can include documents such as diaries and scrapbooks, photographs, and eyewitness accounts.

Secondary research often summarizes the work of many primary research studies.  In the sciences, a common example of this is a review article.  Review articles report and analyze the results of primary research articles, but don't report any new information.

Reading the Scientific Literature

Reading a scientific paper isn't like reading a book.  Hint:  Don't try to read it straight through from beginning to end!

Here are some tips to help you become skilled:

How to Read a Scientific Paper - Infographic from Elsevier

How to Read a Scientific Article by Mary Purugganan, Ph.D. and Jan Hewitt, Ph.D., Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication at Rice University

How to Read a Scientific Paper - Minimally modified from John W. Little and Roy Parker at the University of Arizona (which is no longer retrievable).  This version is from a Biology course from by taught by Professor Devoto Fall 2011 at Wesleyan University.

How to read and understand a scientific paper: a guide for non-scientists

Resources for Student Research & Getting Grants

Resources you might find helpful:

Bourne, P. E., & Chalupa, L. M. (2006). Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants. PLoS Computational Biology, 2(2), e12.
USU Library LIbGuide on Undergraduate Research. 
USU Library LIbGuide on Grant Resources - geared to faculty and graduate students, but does include a list of books and resources you may find helpful.

Citing Limerick

Here is your class citing limerick!


There were some students from USU

Who knew just what to do

When they did cite

They did it just right ...


Last lines:

And it turned out that their desired grade became true

Cocka doodle doo

Bippidy boppity boo

And their grades were coo'


Nice work!