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BIO 192: General Biology II

What is a Primary Research Article?

What is a Primary Research Article?

In a primary research article, author(s) present a new set of findings from original research after conducting an original experiment. Think of what you do in any of your various lab activities. If you were to write a scholarly paper on any of your biology labs (like the Flowers and Pollinators lab from BIO 191), it would be a primary research article.

Primary research articles are also referred to as original research or research articles.

How Do You Identify Primary Research Articles?

How to Identify Primary Research Article
  • Did the author(s) of the paper conduct the experiment themselves? This is the most important thing to look for in order to identify primary research. Look for language that indicates that the author(s) devised the experiment, carried it out, and analyzed the resulting data themselves.
  • A primary research article typically contains the following section headings:
    • "Methods"/"Materials and Methods"/"Experimental Methods"(different journals title this section in different ways)
    • "Results"
    • "Discussion"


Here is One Example of a Primary Research Article and How to Determine that it is a Primary Research Article

"Effects of Salinity Stress on Survival, Metabolism, Limb Regeneration, and Ecdysis in UCA PUGNAX"

Read the Abstract

If you read the abstract, you can see that the author(s) themselves conducted an experiment:

  • "This study investigated physiological and metabolic changes in the molt cycle of U. pugnax..."
  • "For this study, a limb was removed and its regenerative growth was photographed every two days"
  • "...crabs were dissected, and the tissues collected were analyzed for their protein and carbohydrate contents."

Read the Headings

  • The article has Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion sections, all which indicate that the authors conducted an experiment and then analyzed the data they found.

Skim the Article

If you skim the article, it is clear that the authors tested a hypothesis using the scientific method. They are only really talking about research that was conducted by others in the "Introduction" section of the article, which is what you would expect for a primary research article.

Look for Textual Evidence

If you skim the article, you can easily find additional evidence that an experiment was conducted by the authors themselves.

  • "We collected adult crabs of Uca pugnax for this experiment on 26 August 2006 at Powell's Bay, VA ..."
    • [They collected their sample i.e. crabs.]
  • Crabs were exposed to different salinity levels to determine survival and hemolymph osmoregulation ability."
    • [They exposed their sample to different variables.]
  • A two-way ANOVA (ɑ=0.05) was performed to determine whether the effects of external osmolarity on hemolymph osmolarity depended on sex."
    • [They used statistical methods to analyze their data.]
  • All crabs at the highest (75 ppt) salinity died, but survival for all other salinities was above 83.3%."
    • [They reported the results of their experiment.]
  • Our osmoregulation results suggest that U. pugnaxis a hyperosmoregulator at low salinities while an osmoconformer at higher salinities."
    • [They drew a conclusion from their experimental results.]
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