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Exploring the Chemical Literature

Tutorial for students in advanced Analytical Chemistry courses for majors, but useful to anyone interested in using the literature of chemistry.

Research Articles

Publishing Original Research

When scientists want to make the results of their work public, they submit an article to a scholarly journal. This is the primary way scientific knowledge is vetted, communicated and preserved for future generations.

Research articles usually contain:

  • An abstract, or summary of the article
  • Introduction: a brief review of prior literature and explanation of the problem
  • Experimental section: a detailed description of the methods and materials used.
  • Results obtained: data tables, charts, etc.
  • Discussion of the results in context of other work.
  • Conclusion: summary and suggestions for further research.
  • References: Literature cited
  • Supplemental/supporting information: Many experimental papers provide additional data in a separate file available from the article's web page. This might include large tables, lengthy procedures or mathematical derivations, analytical characterization data (e.g. spectral), computer code, crystallographic data, etc.

Research articles are NOT good places to find:

  • a general introduction or background to a topic
  • answers to basic questions

Short articles (also called communications or letters) report research in progress and preliminary results likely to be of interest to the scientific community, and establish priority for the authors in advance of full publication. These often undergo expedited review for faster publication. Some journals publish both short and full articles; others publish only short articles.

Are Articles Hard to Read?

Articles in scientific journals are written by and for experts, not for beginning students or the general public. Since the authors assume their readers have some advanced knowledge on the subject, reading and understanding these articles can be a bit of a challenge at first when you don't have that expertise. But with a little practice you'll soon learn how to intelligently scan an article and extract the information you need. You don't necessarily have to read it start to finish, and you don't need to understand every little detail. Experienced scientists skip around:  they might scan the Experimental and Results sections first, and if those are interesting move on to the conclusions and introduction. 

For more tips check out this guide from the Royal Society of Chemistry:

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