Answered By: Priscilla Coulter
Last Updated: Jun 26, 2014     Views: 18970

A research paper is a primary source...that is, it reports the methods and results of an original study performed by the authors. The kind of study may vary (it could have been an experiment, survey, interview, etc.), but in all cases, raw data have been collected and analyzed by the authors, and conclusions drawn from the results of that analysis.

Research papers follow a particular format.  Look for:

  • A brief introduction will often include a review of the existing literature on the topic studied, and explain the rationale of the author's study.  This is important because it demonstrates that the authors are aware of exisiting studies, and are planning to contribute to this existing body of research in a meaningful way (that is, they're not just doing what others have already done).
  • A methods section, where authors desribe how they collected and analyzed data.  Statistical analyses are included.  This section is quite detailed, as it's important that other researchers be able to verify and/or replicate these methods.
  • A results section describes the outcomes of the data analysis.  Charts and graphs illustrating the results are typically included.
  • In the discussion, authors will explain their interpretation of their results and theorize on their importance to existing and future research.
  • References or works cited are always included.  These are the articles and books that the authors drew upon to plan their study and to support their discussion.

You can use the library's article databases to search for research articles:

  • A research article will nearly always be published in a peer-reviewed journal; click here for instructions on limiting your searches to peer-reviewed articles.  
  • If you have a particular type of study in mind, you can include keywords to describe it in your search.  For instance, if you would like to see studies that used surveys to collect data, you can add "survey" to your topic in the database's search box. See this example search in our EBSCO databases: "bullying and survey".  
  • Several of our databases have special limiting options that allow you to select specific methodologies.  See, for instance, the "Methodology" box in ProQuest's PsycARTICLES Advanced Search (scroll down a bit to see it).  It includes options like "Empirical Study" and "Qualitative Study", among many others.  

A review article is a secondary source...it is written about other articles, and does not report original research of its own.  Review articles are very important, as they draw upon the articles that they review to suggest new research directions, to strengthen support for existing theories and/or identify patterns among exising research studies.  For student researchers, review articles provide a great overview of the exisiting literature on a topic.   If you find a literature review that fits your topic, take a look at its references/works cited list for leads on other relevant articles and books!

You can use the library's article databases to find literature reviews as well!

  • Try adding "review" or "literature review" to your search.  For example, see this search in EBSCO for "bullying and review".  
  • Or, use the databases limiting options.  ProQuest's Advanced Search "Methodology" box also includes a "Literature Review" option.

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