Introduction > Reviewing Literature > Where to Look for Information > Primary Literature

Primary Literature

Researchers rely on peer-reviewed primary literature (scientific papers, conference proceedings and dissertations) more than secondary literature. This is partly because they are extremely specific in terms of the subject area, but also because primary literature represents the cutting-edge of science. The refereeing process that primary literature is subjected to is your best guarantee that the information is correct and trustworthy.

Your University library or Internet databases are the best way to search for primary sources. If your research involves quantitative information, such as population, population growth, etc, your literature review should contain the most up-to-date information you can find.

Scientific papers

Bound scientific papersTo be published in a scientific journal, a paper must pass the peer-review process and be an original piece of work. Although it may take up to a year from submission to publication, papers represent one of the most up-to-date and reliable sources of information for scientists. When you read scientific papers it's a good idea to take note of conclusions, but also the results and methodologies used.

Your lecturer and/or librarians will let you know what journals are relevant to your area of study. Possible journals that may interest you can be found on publishers' web sites, including:

Undergraduates sometimes produce original research which their supervisor may encourage them to publish. Students can often publish work in their university e-journal, or in the national undergraduate journal, Bioscience Horizons.

Can you identify THREE journals that publish papers that might be of interest/relevance to your area of study? If you can't, speak with your librarians

Conference proceedings

Bound conference proceedingsResearchers often present the results of their work at national and international science conferences. Each presenter provides a written overview of their presentation and this is given to conference attendees in the form of a 'conference proceeding'. Unless you have attended the conference (or know someone who has!), conference proceedings can be difficult to find. Searching the Internet for the conference title is often your best bet for finding the proceedings. Alternatively, for science conferences, check ISI Proceedings (generally available through your library) for an on-line search engine for conference proceedings. You can also search using ProceedingsFirst, which lists those proceedings available in the British Library, and the sister website PapersFirst for papers presented at the conferences. Wherever possible check to see if the author(s) have published their work in a peer-reviewed journal as this will provide a more detailed overview of the work.


Dissertations (sometimes called theses) are produced by final year undergraduates, MSc, MPhil and PhD students. Your University library will have a copy of every dissertation produced by its students, although you may have to request a copy from the library basement! The British Library holds copies of postgraduate dissertations and these are available (for a small charge) using inter-library loans. Accessing dissertations from other Universities, particularly those produced by undergraduates, can be difficult. However, several universities have their own journals for publishing undergraduate research work, for example BURN (Nottingham) and Reinvention (Warwick). Oxford University Press also produce a national undergraduate journal, Bioscience Horizons.

Find out if and where your department keeps its copies of dissertations. Spend ten minutes looking through them - you might find inspiration in the titles for your own research projects, and you'll also get a feel for what's expected of you
<<< Previous Page >>><<< Next Page >>>