Skip to main content

Marine Biology: Identifying Primary Scientific Literature

This guide includes selected print and electronic books, journals, and databases as well as web resources in the field of marine biology.


Even though a citation database coded an article as peer reviewed, it is always your responsibility to determine whether or not an article is actually primary literature.  Following are some general indications that a journal is publishing primary literature:

  • Journal is published by a professional organization.
  • “Journal” or “Quarterly” are in the title, but this is not a requirement.
  • No general advertisements included.
  • Journal will have a Board of Editors who are specialists in fields covered by the journal.
  • Read instructions to authors to learn if a formal peer review is required.
  • Look at the journal issue and the specific article to definitively determine if the article is peer reviewed. 

Remember primary journal articles are written in a specific format.  Some journals include primary and secondary articles in the same issue.

Primary Scientific Literature

What is primary scientific literature?

Primary literature in the field of science refers to journal articles written and reviewed by experts that are published and indexed by commercial publishers.  The article must report an actual research project and undergo a formal review process called peer review, jury, or referee. The peer reviewed journal article must be written in a required format and include the following: abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, acknowledgements, references.

Other Types of Scientific Literature

Are there other types of scientific literature?

Yes, there are two other kinds of scientific literature. 

1. Secondary Literature: It is generally written as prose, provides a summary of scientific research, is written for the non-specialist, and may be published in a book, magazine or journal.  Secondary literature can provide an overview of all the research conducted in an area; articles that do this are called review articles. 

2. Grey Literature: It includes papers, reports, technical notes or other documents produced and published by governmental agencies, academic institutions and other groups that are not distributed or indexed by commercial publishers.  it is the initial reporting of research findings subjected to internal review before publication.  It can be difficult to locate because it may not be indexed and is not widely distributed.  Often research will be published in grey literature before it is published in the primary literature.

Examples of Types of Scientific Literature

Finding Primary Scientific Literature

How can I find primary journal articles?

Citation databases provide the best method for finding primary literature.  These databases index all of the literature published in broad subject areas, and provide the user subject and keyword searching to identify needed articles.  Most citation databases index primary, secondary, and grey literature.  Many citation databases will identify the articles that are coded as peer reviewed.  The citation databases allow the user to link from the citation to the full-text article if the library subscribes to the online version of the article.   Following are some citation databases specific to the biological and marine sciences that are accessible to authorized users only: