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Finding original (or "scientific") research articles: Definition and description

Learn how to recognize an original research article and where to find one.


Original research articles are primary sources:

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. Some instructors may refer to these as "scientific research" articles or as "empirical" research.

Defining "empirical" research:

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines empirical as: "originating in or based on observation or experience research; capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment."

photo of scientists, research in a science lab

Image source: "Lab Laboratory Research Scientific Science" by felixioncool is licensed under the CC0 license (public domain)

Anatomy of a scholarly article

Take a look at this very helpful web page created by librarians at NCSU (North Carolina State University).

Common characteristics of most original research articles

photo of scientific research articlesMost research articles have common elements and organization, including:

  • Written by multiple authors (usually three or more)
  • Authors are always identified and their credentials displayed
  • Long, technical article titles with specialized terminology
  • Lengthy--a minimum of six pages, often twenty or more
  • Divided into sections
    • Introduction that includes the problem, question(s), and research objectives
    • Literature review: a description of what other scholars have written about the problem
    • Methods or Approach
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • References
  • Article abstracts will include words such as:
    • Methods, Study, Results
    • Randomized, Double blind, Placebo-controlled
  • Article text will describe and analyze the problem, experiment or study, with technical language or jargon understood by others in that field
  • Chart, graphs, and/or tables often included
  • Lengthy references list
  • Published in professional or scholarly journals

Here's what a citation might look like

closeup of citations in a research articleHere are examples of how some research article citations look like when included in library databases or in bibliographies. Note the very detailed titles and multiple authors. 

  • A Pilot Study of Gene/Gene and Gene/Environment Interactions in Alzheimer Disease.By: Ghebranious, Nader; Mukesh, Bickol; Giampietro, Philip F.; Gluhch, Ingrid; Michel, Susan F.; Waring, Stephen C.; McCarty, Catherine A., Clinical Medicine & Research, Mar2011, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p17-25, 9p, 5 Charts; 
  • Developmental Trajectories of Marital Happiness in Continuously Married Individuals: A Group-Based Modeling Approach. By: Anderson, Jared R., Van Ryzin, Mark J., Doherty, William J., Journal of Family Psychology, 08933200, Oct2010, Vol. 24, Issue 5
  • Occurrence of genetically modified oilseed rape seeds in the harvest of subsequent conventional oilseed rape over timeEuropean Journal of Agronomy, Volume 27, Issue 1, July 2007, Pages 115-122. A. Messéan, C. Sausse, J. Gasquez, H. Darmency

(Also, please note that the citations above are NOT cited in either APA or MLA style.)

Image source: “Scientific citations” by Finn Årup Nielsen is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license

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