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What is a Scientific Journal Article?

Primary Research

Most scientific journal articles are primary research, which is: Journal article showing the title, author, doi, and abstract

  • Original research conducted by one or more people.
  • Includes information on their sample size, materials used, persons studied, and the results the researchers reached.
  • Techniques of original data collection or research directly from the target respondents. Primary research is different from secondary research in that secondary research uses data or research that has already been collected.
  • Primary research includes qualitative and quantitative research and can include surveys, focus groups, questionnaires, and interviews.
  • Since primary research typically takes anywhere from weeks to months to gather and is very expensive, secondary sources are typically exhausted first before any primary research is conducted.

(Oxford Research)

What items identify a scientific journal article?

Paragraphs will have a few of the following titles above them: 

  • Abstract
  • Data Source
  • Study Sample
  • Purpose
  • Methods and Procedure
  • Results
  • Analysis and Conclusion

Five Key Characteristics

  • Author(s) with credentials (e.g. PhD)and/or affiliations(e.g. university professor)
  • A specific focus on contributing new, original research in a narrow area of the subject (often indicated through a long title)
  • Technical and formal language with complex ideas and arguments, an objective tone, and an analytical perspective
  • Lengthy (at least 5 pages of text) with many references, footnotes, and/or endnotes
  • Plain appearance with very minimal use of color, graphics, and/or images

How does peer review work?

  1. A group of scientists completes a study and writes it up in the form of an article. They submit it to a journal for publication.
  2. The journal's editors send the article to several other scientists who work in the same field (i.e., the "peers" of peer review).
  3. Those reviewers provide feedback on the article and tell the editor whether or not they think the study is of high enough quality to be published.
  4. The authors may then revise their article and resubmit it for consideration.
  5. Only articles that meet good scientific standards (e.g., acknowledge and build upon other work in the field, rely on logical reasoning and well-designed studies, back up claims with evidence, etc.) are accepted for publication.


Peer reviews and publication are time-consuming, frequently involving more than a year between submission and publication. The process is also highly competitive. For example, the highly-regarded journal Science accepts less than 8% of the articles it receives, and The New England Journal of Medicine publishes just 6% of its submissions.


Sourced From: "Scrutinizing Science: Peer Reviews". Understanding Science. University of California Museum of Paleontology.

26 Oct. 2021.

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