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Scientific Literature and Research at IUP

What is "Literature?"

Searching the scientific literature can be challenging – thinking of the best keywords and concepts, finding the best resources, and accumulating a strong set of articles is a process that takes time and practice.

So what is "scientific literature" anyway? 

Literature is a term used frequently in academic and library circles that just means "the stuff that's been published on a topic." 

There are three basic “levels” of literature, each reflecting a different stage of the ongoing creation, discussion, and reevaluation of research that is the essence of scholarly publishing.

Primary Literature:  accounts of original research, written by the researchers who performed it. Sometimes also called empirical research, since it is concerned with measuring, evaluating, and testing hypotheses. Primary literature must provide enough information to allow another researcher (with the right skills) to reproduce the experiment. Examples: journal articles, conference proceedings, dissertations, and patents.

Secondary Literature: This type of literature refers to the primary sources, in some cases synthesizing information from primary sources to draw new conclusions, or repackaging it in a new form. Generally, secondary literature provides some new information or criticism on the topics discussed. Examples: monographs (a fancy word for books), encyclopedias, some textbooks, and annual reviews.

Tertiary Literature: Tertiary literature is primarily used as a finding aid for primary and secondary literature, and does not usually provide any new information. Examples: directories, indexes, and bibliographies

In terms of locating the latest information on a research area, the most important type is primary literature. Secondary and tertiary literature are there to assist you in locating and understanding the primary literature, but it is the first-hand accounts of actual research that let you know what has been done, and what researchers have discovered.