Types of scientific articles – structure and purpose

Types of scientific articles

Not all scientific articles, aka papers, are the same. Each kind of article has a different purpose. For example, some papers present new data while others discuss data already published.

Understanding the differences and the purpose of each type of article makes dive into a topic more efficient. It also helps you to skim the articles much faster. An important skill to keep your scientific library as a practical tool avoiding been submerged in an ever-growing folder of articles pending to read.

There are two main types of scientific articles that you need to master, original research articles and review articles.

Original research articles

The original research article is the standard and most important type of article. It is the basic block of scientific communications and it is also the most common article you will find.

These articles are primary sources. That means it communicates original data generated by the authors. It could be data obtained by experimentation, observation, or theorization.

This type of article follows always the same structure:

  1. Introducction of the scientific question or hypothesis.
  2. Methodology employed to perform the study.
  3. Results of the study.
  4. Discussion of the results.

Review articles

The review articles, on the contrary, are secondary sources. Review articles do not present new data, but collect, reorganize, and summarize the existing literature with a new perspective.

This type of article is intended to give a comprehensive analysis of a specific topic by synthesizing the key points in the field. Some review articles go a step further and formulate new hypotheses based on the open questions of previous studies.

Review articles are generally written by authoritative researchers that understand deeply the topic. They string together all the ramifications of the field in a compressive way, proportionating a wide perspective of the topic.

For this reason, review articles are the most enlightening text to read when you are new in a field. I recommend reading review articles before reading original research articles because the review articles give you the context necessary to frame the relevance of a particular study.

Other types of articles

Without doubts, these two types of articles are the most important and they constitute the gross of the scientific literature. Nevertheless, there are other types of articles worth knowing.

Short scientific communications are quick synopses of preliminary results. Usually, they do not have enough results for a full paper, but a few data points worth sharing. Therefore, they are intended to stimulate discussion and proportionate the seeds for deeper studies.

Conference proceedings are abstract or short scientific communications that have been presented in a conference. The relevance of these articles depends on the field. In most fields, conference proceedings are not included in the formal categories of scientific literature. In part because the content of the proceedings ends up published in a formal paper within a more complete study.

However, in fast-changing fields, like computer vision, artificial intelligence, or cybersecurity among others, conference proceedings are more relevant because the advances happen so fast that the peer-reviewed process is too slow to cope with the new developments. These fields are so competitive and fast-paced that researchers do not bother to spend time writing a formal paper. They rather prefer to invest that time in continuing the research.

If you are interested in these fields, it is worth it to follow those conferences closely, since relying only on formal articles may keep you a little behind the latest results.

Editorials are articles expressing the author’s view about a particular issue relevant to the audience of the journal. Usually, criticize or discuss a publication accepted in the journal presenting briefly the subject with no aim of a full review.

Other resources

PhD thesis or dissertations are the results of a PhD student’s research. This text is very useful to dig into the details on how the research was carried on. Generally, in a thesis dissertation, you can find greater details of the methods than what you can read in the publications derived from that research. Usually, they also include lots of appendices with raw data.

Books or tertiary literature synthesize primary literature that has been around for a long period and is widely accepted in the research community. These are also great resources to get familiar with a topic and understand the basis of the field.

Other resources could be interesting to include in your scientific library depends on your topic of interest:

  • patents
  • best-practices guidelines
  • technical reports from governmental agencies, ONG’s or other institutions
  • official reports from public authorities, or private firms

All those documents are gold mines for you to build your knowledge database, to back up your arguments, and to create a solid base for your work. You have to explore what type of documents are more relevant for you.

Tell us

What type of article do you find more useful in your field?

Leave us your answer in the comments.


How to build YOUR own scientific library

In this blog, I write about how to find, organize, and retrieve scientific studies efficiently to create your own scientific library.

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Author: Enrique Morales Orcajo, PhD

I am an engineer, scientist, and traveler based in Europe. I write about how to consume and digest scientific studies in a practical and efficient way. My goal is to help you make more sound scientific judgments.

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