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Biology: Scientific Literature

Find scholarly resources in biology

Scientific Literature

  • Primary research articles - Original research  by Scientists usually published in peer reviewed journals. These articles may include an abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, conclusion, acknowledgements, and references. Primary articles are written after the experiments or studies are done.
  • Review Articles - Articles that provide an overview, summary, or synthesis of scientific research in a specific field. Included may be history, recent developments, evaluations, suggestions, etc. The author has studied the relevant research to produce a review.

Literature Review

A literature review is one of the first things done by any student or scholar who plans to pursue new knowledge or do research in most subject areas.  It involves identifying, locating, and examining information and publications on a particular topic. 

Here are the reasons for doing a literature review:

  1. A literature review establishes the background on what has already been researched on a topic.
  2. It shows why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  3. Students and scholars will discover relationships between ideas in the literature.
  4. A literature review helps students and scholars identify major themes and concepts within their topic.
  5. Knowing what has been published allows identification of critical gaps of knowledge and points of disagreement within a subject area.
  6. The literature review helps a scholar or student turn a network of articles into a coherent view of the literature.

A literature review is not:

  • an annotated bibliography or
  • a "laundry list" of articles.

A literature review allows a student or scholar to integrate and synthesize information on a topic and use it to create new knowledge.


This Research Guide Page is based on work by Kristy Padron, Librarian at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton Campus, and used with her permission. Thank you Kristy!

Example: Cited By and References

Endophytes of opium poppy differentially modulate host plant productivity and genes for the biosynthetic pathway of benzylisoquinoline alkaloids

Pandey, Shiv S; Singh, Sucheta; Babu, C S; Vivek; Shanker, Karuna; Srivastava, N K; et al.Planta: An International Journal of Plant Biology; Heidelberg Vol. 243, Iss. 5,  (May 2016): 1097-1114.

Backward Reference Searching

Backward reference searching is identifying and examining the references or works cited in an article of interest.  It is a way to learn about the development of knowledge on a topic of interest.  A researcher will do this in order to study the origins and development of a theory, construct, or model of interest.  Another reason to backward reference search is to identify experts or institutions specializing in an area of study.

A second-level backward reference search is when a researcher chooses to examine the sources cited by the references used in an initial article.  This allows a researcher to identify inconsistencies in the literature on their topic of interest.

Backward Author Searching.  The works of an author can be examined by doing a backward reference search.  This allows a reseacher to review an author's previous work and publications.

Forward Reference Searching

Forward reference searching is when a researcher identifies articles that cite a particular article or work in a publication.  This type of search focuses on the publications created after an initial original article or research publication. 

Forward reference searching helps a researcher expand their knowledge on a topic by locating follow-up studies.  A researcher then can identify new findings and developments.

Forward Author Searching.  Forward reference searching can also be done to find a particular author and his or her works.  This allows a researcher to review their later works.