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BIO 3351 Microbiology


For your poster project there are no restrictions between primary research and review articles.  But for other assignments in the course you may be required to find a primary research article.

Primary Research Articles

Primary Research (also called original research or research articles):

A primary research article reports on new findings based on observation or evidence collection (empirical research) conducted by the authors.  It will:

  • ask a research question or make a hypothesis
  • have a research population (in health care, this is often given as a sample size. e,g N=__; in biology, it may just refer to the population or thing being examined)
  • include a methodology for conducting the research
  • present the data gathered, usually called the "results" section
  • draw conclusions regarding the research question and data in a discussion or conclusion section

Primary research is often recognized by its five section headings: Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion. Other types of articles in a journal such as editorials, opinions, and letters to the editor do not have this format.  Be aware that literature reviews, also called review articles, may have many of these same headings. See below for more information on distinguishing between primary research and literature reviews.

Distinguishing Between Primary Research and Literature Reviews

Here are some key features that can help distinguish the difference between primary research and a literature review.


  • Primary research describes the original work of the authors and presents empirical research.
  • Literature reviews organize the research on a topic and report the current (at time of publication) themes, methods, and theories.

Article Titles:

  • Research articles usually have very specific titles and often - but not always - include verbs that indicate research, for example, modeling, effect, or reduce. For example:
    • "Modelling the effect of pH, acidulant and temperature on the growth rate of Yersinia enterocolitica"
    • "Insights in metabolism and toxin production from the complete genome sequence of Clostridium tetani"
  • Literature review titles are usually shorter and less specific, are more likely to have a ":" in the title, and sometimes actually say literature review in the title. For example
    • "Tetanus and trauma: a review and recommendations"
    • "COVID-19: immunopathogenesis and immunotherapeutics"


  • In primary research, the author(s) report on their own research (note: primary articles often start with a background or review of the literature section where they place their own research into context, but then continue on to their own research).
  • In a literature review, the author(s) report on the work of others.


  • Primary research will have a population or thing on which data is being gathered. For example:
    • "Plasma obtained by centrifugation of blood samples from one hundred and eighty-nine 53- and 104-week-old children was rapidly moved to a −80 °C freezer for storage. Frozen plasma samples were shipped. . .for analysis."
    • "Vaccine laden [microneedle] patches were studied for morphological attributes by using a scanning electron microscope (SEM)."
  • Literature reviews will not have this.


  • Primary research will have a robust methods section that describes exactly how the research was done.
  • Literature review will have no methods section, or will use this section to describe how databases were searched or articles were reviewed, selected, or excluded.