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BIO 245: Conservation Biology: What's a Primary Article?

Hint: Finding Open Access Articles

Increasingly, scholars are frustrated that their research is available only to people who have access to big libraries, so they either publish their research in journals that are free to anyone to read or they reserve the right to put copies of their research online. Try Googling the author and title of an article you need and add filetype:pdf - you might get lucky and find a free copy online.

For research in biology and biomedical sciences, the National Institutes of Health provides two nifty options. PubMed is a huge database of medical research articles. After you do a search, you can choose to limit your results to free full text articles.

Or you can go to PubMed Central, an archive of over 1,000 life science journals and articles based on research funded by the NIH to find lots of articles in biology and medicine.

Primary Articles

Scientists typically submit formal research reports to journals, which then ask other scientists to review the work for soundness and significance. These are typical features of primary science articles:

  • The article is written by a scientist or group of scientists and their affiliation (lab or university) is listed.
  • An abstract, or summary, is provided before the text of the article itself. Often the abstract is included in a database, but the whole article may have to be found elsewhere.
  • Related research is referenced in the introduction (or "literature review") and there are references at the end of the article.
  • The article reports on an experiment and the methodology is described so readers can see how valid the research is and whether to use the same method.
  • Results are provided, often with data in the form of tables, charts, or maps.
  • The authors include some kind of conclusion that puts their findings in perspective.

For an example, see "anatomy of a scholarly article" from North Carolina State University.

Where Do I Find the Actual Articles?

Once you've identified an interesting article, look for a yellow "find it!" button to see if it is available either in full text or in print. Print journals are shelved on the lower level alphabetically by title, with the most recent issues in separate A-Z section from the older issues. With the exception of the most recent issue of the most popular magazines (shelved near the Browsing Collection), you may check magazines and journals out for a week.

If an article is not available in full text or in print, there is an option to request it through interlibrary loan, using your Gustavus account login to identify yourself. This generally means it will be scanned in for you at another library. An e-mail message will be sent to you with a URL and pin number to retrieve it. Though these scanned articles are sometimes are available within 24 hours, they can take longer. Plan ahead.

Sometimes you come across a footnote with an article that looks interesting. You don't need to turn to a database to find it. Check the title of the magazine or journal (not the article title) from the journals list tab of the library's main page (or on the left of this page). If it is not available to us at Gustavus, log in to your library account and fill out an interlibrary loan request.


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Dan Mollner
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