Scientific literature

Scientific literature comprises scholarly publications that report original empirical and theoretical work in the natural and social sciences. Within an academic field, scientific literature is often referred to as "the literature". Academic publishing is the process of contributing the results of one's research into the literature, which often requires a peer-review process.

Original scientific research published for the first time in scientific journals is called the primary literature. Patents and technical reports, for minor research results and engineering and design work (including computer software), can also be considered primary literature.

Secondary sources include review articles (which summarize the findings of published studies to highlight advances and new lines of research) and books (for large projects or broad arguments, including compilations of articles).

Tertiary sources might include encyclopedias and similar works intended for broad public consumption.

Types of scientific publications

Scientific literature can include the following kinds of publications:

Literature may also be published in areas considered to be "grey", as they are published outside of traditional channels. This material is customarily not indexed by major databases and can include manuals, theses and dissertations, or newsletters and bulletins.

The significance of different types of the scientific publications can vary between disciplines and change over time.[citation needed] According to James G. Speight and Russell Foote, peer-reviewed journals are the most prominent and prestigious form of publication. University presses are more prestigious than commercial press publication. The status of working papers and conference proceedings depends on the discipline; they are typically more important in the applied sciences. The value of publication as a preprint or scientific report on the web has in the past been low, but in some subjects, such as mathematics or high energy physics, it is now an accepted alternative.[citation needed]

Scientific papers and articles

Scientific papers have been categorised into ten types. Eight of these carry specific objectives, while the other two can vary depending on the style and the intended goal.

Papers that carry specific objectives are:

  • An original article provides new information from original research supported by evidence.
  • Case reports are unique events[clarification needed] that researchers read to obtain information on the subject.
  • A technical note is a description of a technique or piece of equipment that has been modified from an existing one to be new and more effective.
  • A pictorial essay is a series of high-quality images published for teaching purposes.
  • A review is a detailed analysis of recent developments on a topic.
  • A commentary is a short summary of an author's personal experience.
  • Editorials are short reviews or critiques of original articles.
  • Letters to the editor are communications directed to the editor of an article to ask questions and provide constructive criticism.

The following two categories are variable, including for example historical articles and speeches:

  • "Nonscientific material" This type of material comes from the result of an article being published.[clarification needed] It does not advance an article scientifically but instead contributes to its reputation as a scientific article.
  • "Other": Other types of papers not listed under non-scientific material or in any of the above eight categories. They can vary depending on the objective and style of the article.

Scientific article


The actual day-to-day records of scientific information are kept in research notebooks or logbooks. These are usually kept indefinitely as the basic evidence of the work, and are often kept in duplicate, signed, notarized, and archived. The purpose is to preserve the evidence for scientific priority, and in particular for priority for obtaining patents. They have also been used in scientific disputes. Since the availability of computers, the notebooks in some data-intensive fields have been kept as database records, and appropriate software is commercially available.

The work on a project is typically published as one or more technical reports, or articles. In some fields both are used, with preliminary reports, working papers, or preprints followed by a formal article. Articles are usually prepared at the end of a project, or at the end of components of a particularly large one. In preparing such an article vigorous rules for scientific writing have to be followed.


Often, career advancement depends upon publishing in high-impact journals, which, especially in hard and applied sciences, are usually published in English. Consequently, scientists with poor English writing skills are at a disadvantage when trying to publish in these journals, regardless of the quality of the scientific study itself. Yet many[which?] international universities require publication in these high-impact journals by both their students and faculty. One way that some international authors are beginning to overcome this problem is by contracting with freelance copy editors who are native speakers of English and specialize in ESL (English as a second language) editing to polish their manuscripts' English to a level that high-impact journals will accept.[citation needed]

Structure and style

Although the content of an article is more important than the format, it is customary for scientific articles to follow a standard structure, which varies only slightly in different subjects. Although the IMRAD structure emphasizes the organization of content, and in scientific journal articles, each section (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion) has unique conventions for scientific writing style.

The following are key guidelines for formatting, although each journal etc will to some extent have its own house style:

  • The title attracts readers' attention and informs them about the contents of the article. Titles are distinguished into three main types: declarative titles (state the main conclusion), descriptive titles (describe a paper's content), and interrogative titles (challenge readers with a question that is answered in the text). Some journals indicate, in their instructions to authors, the type (and length) of permitted titles.
  • The names and affiliations of all authors are given. In the wake of some scientific misconduct cases, publishers often require that all co-authors know and agree on the content of the article.
  • An abstract summarizes the work (in a single paragraph or in several short paragraphs) and is intended to represent the article in bibliographic databases and to furnish subject metadata for indexing services.
  • The context of previous scientific investigations should be presented, by citation of relevant documents in the existing literature, usually in a section called an "Introduction".
  • Empirical techniques, laid out in a section usually called "Materials and Methods", should be described in such a way that a subsequent scientist, with appropriate knowledge of and experience in the relevant field, should be able to repeat the observations and know whether he or she has obtained the same result. This naturally varies between subjects, and does not apply to mathematics and related subjects.
  • Similarly, the results of the investigation, in a section usually called "Results", should be presented in tabular or graphic form (image, chart, schematic, diagram or drawing). These display elements should be accompanied by a caption and should be discussed in the text of the article.
  • Interpretation of the meaning of the results is usually addressed in a "Discussion" or "Conclusions" section. The conclusions drawn should be based on the new empirical results while taking established knowledge into consideration, in such a way that any reader with knowledge of the field can follow the argument and confirm that the conclusions are sound. That is, acceptance of the conclusions must not depend on personal authority, rhetorical skill, or faith.
  • Finally, a "References" or "Literature Cited" section lists the sources cited by the authors.

Peer review

Increasing reliance on digital abstracting services and academic search engines means that the de facto acceptance in the academic discourse is predicted by the inclusion in such selective sources. Commercial providers of proprietary data include Chemical Abstracts Service, Web of Science and Scopus, while open data (and often open source, non-profit and library-led) services include DOAB, DOAJ and (for open access works) Unpaywall (based on CrossRef and Microsoft Academic records enriched with OAI-PMH data from open archives).


The transfer of copyright from author to publisher, used by some journals, can be controversial because many authors want to propagate their ideas more widely and re-use their material elsewhere without the need for permission. Usually an author or authors circumvent that problem by rewriting an article and using other pictures. Some publishers may also want publicity for their journal so will approve facsimile reproduction unconditionally; other publishers are more resistant.[citation needed]

In terms of research publications, a number of key issues include and are not restricted to:

  • Honesty. Honesty and integrity is a duty of each author and person, expert-reviewer and member of journal editorial boards.
  • Review process. The peer-review process contributes to the quality control and it is an essential step to ascertain the standing and originality of the research.
    • Redundant Publications. Publications that contain copyrighted and new unpublished material.
    • Data Fabrications. Is the process of purposefully changing data to make the information more in the favor of the author.
  • Ethical standards. Recent journal editorials presented some experience of unscrupulous activities.
    • Human Welfare Concerns. The guidelines for human experimentation started during WWII with the Nuremberg Code. It has evolved into three main principles from The Belmont Report. The subject must be able to make their own choices to protect themselves, benefits must outweigh the risks, and subjects must be evaluated for their selection and benefits must go to all of society.
    • Animal Welfare Concerns. Is the ethical care of animals in scientific experiments. The APS has set strict guidelines and regulations to stop animals from being unnecessarily harmed in experiments. These are being updated regularly by the APS and is a federal law in the United States enforced by DHHS.
  • Authorship. Who may claim a right to authorship? In which order should the authors be listed?
    • Conflicts of Interests. This is referring to the biased assumption due to private interest. It can be done knowingly or not. This is unethical because it makes data inaccurate.
    • Authors Disputes. The authorship of an article is simply the author of the article. The ethical issue with this is when there are two people that believe to be the author, but there is only one true author. There are guidelines to help pick which get authorship of the writing. The one that does not get authorship is put in the acknowledgments. The guidelines come from NIH and The Council of Science Editors.


The first recorded editorial pre-publication peer-review occurred in 1665 by the founding editor of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg.

Technical and scientific books were a specialty of David Van Nostrand, and his Engineering Magazine re-published contemporary scientific articles.

See also

This page was last updated at 2023-03-24 07:42 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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