Skip to Main Content

HON 201: Plant Medicine from Rainforest to Metropolis - A Legacy for the Future: Evaluating Information

Understanding types of literature

Various types of scientific literature can be helpful in conducting research and gathering information. Being able to discern the subtleties of each type is important to help you understand what type of material you are working with and what aspects of your research question may be answered based on the "publication type."

Primary Research Articles, Original Research Articles, and Research Articles

Refer to standard scientific articles that are often published in peer-reviewed journals, to report on the findings of a scientist's work. They generally include a description of research methods and what the results indicate for future use.

Review Articles

Are also commonly published in peer-reviewed journals but their aim is to synthesize and summarize the work within a particular subject-matter, rather than reporting new results based on original lab work or scientific findings. As a result, these articles will not always contain a description of research methods section. Review articles are helpful to provide background information and to discover additional citations that may be useful from their reference list.

Editorials, Opinion, Commentary, or Perspective pieces

Present an author's view about a particular issue, potentially related to an issue within science policy, research agendas, or taking a side of a controversial scientific dispute. These articles can also refer to helpful citations if the author of the piece has done their research to cultivate an argument based on a variety of sources that are likely included in the reference list. They may appear in peer-reviewed journals, trade publications, or popular publications.

Trade Publication Articles

May be found in scholarly journals (like Nature, Journal of the American Chemical Society) and popular publications (like Time, Newsweek, or Scientific American). The target audience for these articles tend to address medical professionals or particular disciplines. The length of the articles may be several pages long, but tend to summarize research published in other publications, or report on industry news. These are helpful for keeping up with the latest news in your discipline or for finding a research topic.


Science News articles may be found in popular newspapers, magazines, trade publications, scholarly publications. They tend to refer to recent studies published as original research articles.

Blog Posts

Scientists may blog about different topics like their daily research, science policy, or life in academia. These can provide insight into the scientific community and may direct you back to peer-reviewed literature. Some scholars dismiss blogs as a scholarly medium while others embrace the potential for communicating scientific findings more efficiently.

Formally Reviewed Article Comments

Criticisms of a published journal article tend to be short pieces that are reviewed by editors or peer-reviewers and published in subsequent journal issues. As many journals have moved to an online platform, links to formal comments are often included with the original article on the website. 

Moderated or Unmoderated Article Comments Online

Due to the slow turnaround time of publishing formal article comments, some online journals have allowed users to directly comment on articles. The comments are sometimes, but not always moderated by administrators for the journal website.

Pre-Print or Post-Print

A pre-print is a journal article in it's original form before it has been peer-reviewed or typeset by a journal, while a post-print refers to a journal article after it has been peer-reviewed but before a journal's typesetting. Sometimes these resources are posted online on a scientist's website or to a larger repository as an effort to contribute to open access policies. These can be a source of journal articles that your institution may not subscribe to. Often pre-prints or post-prints are considered "Gray Literature."

Technical Reports

Derived from government agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's). These reports are not often peer-reviewed but contribute to the body of scientific literature. The World Health Organization (WHO) or United States Geological Survey (USGS) provide valuable information to scientists and can be found in scholarly databases and on the internet, sometimes classified as "Gray Literature."

Field Trip Guides

More commonly seen in geology than other scientific disciplines, but are also considered part of the body of "Gray Literature." They may be published locally or more broadly. Large and small conferences often incorporate field trips as a major component of the event.

Other Types of Gray Literature

Largely refers to items that are distributed or published outside of traditional journal and book publishers. Typically refers to items that may be difficult to find, though these items are becoming increasingly discoverable within internet search engines.


Thematic maps are used within many scientific disciplines and may be published as independent publications, supplemental material for journal articles or books, or parts of technical reports. Scientific theme maps include several pages of prose, which describe the methods used to create the maps, data that informs the results, and related interpretations of the data.

Conference Proceedings or Long Papers

Another major form of communication among scientists, where a group of scientists gather to present research findings and discuss the subjects with colleagues at a conference. Conference topics may be broad or specific, and scientists may present their findings formally or informally (such as poster presentations). Presenters may write a formal paper explaining what they presented at the conference with additional detail, and publish the paper in a book or as part of a larger volume which contains other content from the conference proceedings. Sometimes these papers are subject to the peer-review process and other times they are not. 

Conference Proceedings Abstracts

Often, research presented as posters or PowerPoint presentations at a conference won't be formally written up and published, but occasionally the scientists will archive copies of their presentation on a website. Sometimes the only record of a scientist's presentation is the abstract of their work, which scientists submit to the conference organizers before the event. These abstracts can be found in search engines and scholarly databases, but they do not always link to a full text article, paper, or presentation recording. 


Most scientific books are not considered "Primary Research." Generally, they describe or interpret the primary research published in journal articles. 

Book Series or Special Papers

Some fields publish individual chapters in a book series that could, if considered independently, be considered primary research articles. The individual chapters are cited and indexed individually, and can sometimes resemble journals (which also contain volume numbers and series titles). 

Dissertations or Thesis

The final products of research conducted by students pursuing a PhD (dissertation) or Masters degree (thesis). These items often go into great detail about methods, contain many appendices of data, and amount to many pages. Literature review sections can be exhaustive. These have become easier to find as libraries may post copies of completed dissertations online. Dissertations and thesis are often cited by the authors later on in their future journal articles. These are not considered "peer-reviewed" even though they are reviewed by academic advisors and committee members as part of the educational, degree-granting process.

-Summarized from:

How to Judge What you Find on the Web

When appraising evidence, you'll need to reconstruct the necessary context so that you perceive content most effectively. Recognizing who the speaker, publisher is, their agenda and expertise and record of fairness or accuracy is important to ascertain before proliferating their message as truth. When evaluating literature, or other information resources similar techniques apply, and you will find claims that are faulty, inaccurate, or fragmented and insufficient for your use. Reconstructing the original context and considering where your information comes from will contribute to your reputation and authority as a researcher and educated individual. 

Here are four strategies that will help you evaluate sources using the SIFT Method:

1. Stop

Consider if you know the website or the source of information, how reputable is the claim or the website itself. Before you read it or share the information, recognize where information is coming from and remember your topic. 

2. Investigate the Source

Know the expertise or agenda of the source so you can interpret what they are saying with some background knowledge of their biases or influencing factors. Figure out where the media comes from before reading, to help you decide if it is worth your time. If so, it will help you frame the significance or trustworthiness of the information.

3. Find Better Coverage

When trying to interpret the claim made by an article or video, look for trusted reporting or analysis on the claim itself. Seek out the most authoritative source you can on the subject and see if you can find a consensus from experts across multiple sources to compare the information you initially found, with more authoritative evidence. this way you will find more trusted, detailed, and well-rounded arguments that help you create a better presentation for yourself.

4. Trace Claims, Quotes, and Media to the Original Context

Information that is easy to find is often stripped of context, which can be valuable to comprehensively understand a topic or issue. Trace the claim, quote, or media back to a source so you can discover the original context and evaluate whether the version you initially saw was accurately presented.

-Caulfield's SIFT (The Four Moves)