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Peer-Review and Primary Research in the Sciences

Primary Research

Primary research or a primary study refers to a research article that is an author’s original research that is almost always published in a peer-reviewed journal. A primary study reports on the details, methods and results of a research study. These articles often have a standard structure of a format called IMRAD, referring to sections of an article: Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. Primary research studies will start with a review of the previous literature, however, the rest of the article will focus on the authors’ original research. Literature reviews can be published in peer-reviewed journals, however, they are not primary research.

Primary studies are part of primary sources but should not be mistaken for primary documents. Primary documents are usually original sources such as a letter, a diary, a speech or an autobiography. They are a first person view of an event or a period. Typically, if you are a Humanities major, you will be asked to find primary documents for your paper however, if you are in Social Sciences or the Sciences you are most likely going to be asked to find primary research studies. If you are unsure, ask your professor or a librarian for help.

Identifying a Primary Research Article

A primary research or study is an empirical research that is published in peer-reviewed journals. Some ways of recognizing whether an article is a primary research article when searching a database:

1. The abstract includes a research question or a hypothesis, methods and results.

2. Studies can have tables and charts representing data findings.

3. The article includes a section for "methods” or “methodology” and "results".

4. Discussion section indicates findings and discusses limitations of the research study, and suggests further research.


5. Check the reference section because it will refer you to the studies and works that were consulted. You can use this section to find other studies on that particular topic.

The following are not to be confused with primary research articles:

- Literature reviews

- Meta-analyses or systematic reviews (these studies make conclusions based on research on many other studies)

- Book chapters