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SNHP 6000 (Ari) - Research for the Health Professions: Empirical Articles

Types of Literature

Different types of publications have different characteristics.

Primary Literature
Primary sources means original studies, based on direct observation, use of statistical records, interviews, or experimental methods, of actual practices or the actual impact of practices or policies. They are authored by researchers, contains original research data, and are usually published in a peer-reviewed journal. Primary literature may also include conference papers, pre-prints, or preliminary reports. Also called empirical research.

Secondary Literature
Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples include review articles (such as meta-analysis and systematic reviews) and reference works. Professionals within each discipline take the primary literature and synthesize, generalize, and integrate new research.

Tertiary Literature
Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.

Adapted from the Information Services Department of the Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago.


Original research results in journals,
dissertations, conference proceedings, correspondence


Review articles, systematic reviews, meta-analysis, practice guidelines, monographs on a specific subject


Textbooks, encyclopedias, handbooks, newspapers

Sources: NEJM, JAMA Sources: PubMed, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Web of Science, Williams Obstetrics, Hurst's The Heart Sources:  Gale Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders, Oxford Handbook of Internal Medicine

Types of Scientific Publications

These examples and descriptions of publication types will give you an idea of how to use various works and why you would want to write a particular kind of paper.

  • Scholarly article aka empirical article
  • Review article
  • Conference paper

Scholarly (aka empirical) article -- example

Empirical studies use data derived from observation or experiment. Original research papers (also called primary research articles) that describe empirical studies and their results are published in academic journals.  Articles that report empirical research contain different sections which relate to the steps of the scientific method.

      Abstract - The abstract provides a very brief summary of the research.

     Introduction - The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.

     Method - The method section describes how the research was conducted.

     Results - The results section describes the outcomes of the study.

     Discussion - The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.

     References - A references section lists the articles, books, and other material cited in the report.

Review article -- example

A review article summarizes a particular field of study and places the recent research in context. It provides an overview and is an excellent introduction to a subject area. The references used in a review article are helpful as they lead to more in-depth research.

Many databases have limits or filters to search for review articles. You can also search by keywords like review article, survey, overview, summary, etc.

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports -- example

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports are not usually peer-reviewed.  A conference article is similar to a scholarly article insofar as it is academic. Conference articles are published much more quickly than scholarly articles. You can find conference papers in many of the same places as scholarly articles.

How Do You Identify Empirical Articles?

To identify an article based on empirical research, look for the following characteristics:

     The article is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

     The article includes charts, graphs, or statistical analysis.

     The article is substantial in size, likely to be more than 5 pages long.

     The article contains the following parts (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references.