Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Richmond Campus Library: Finding Primary Research Articles

Library Access

Virtual Library

Use this link for the Virtual Library and the database searches provided by Discovery Search Services of EBSCO if you are on campus or, if you are off campus, log in to your myBSC account and select the "off campus" option. The Virtual library has access to over 150,000 eBooks and 5,000+ online periodicals. 

A-Z Databases

This link will take you to a page showing every database - organized A-Z -  you have access to through Bryant & Stratton. Each database should have a description which will tell you what type of information you will find in the database. 

  • Databases with Primary Research articles may be:
    • MEDLINE Complete - MEDLINE Complete provides authoritative medical information on medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, pre-clinical sciences, and much more. It is also the world's most comprehensive source of full text for medical journals.
    • Health Source - Nursing/Academic Edition - This database provides nearly 550 scholarly full text journals focusing on many medical disciplines. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition also features the Lexi-PAL Drug Guide, which covers 1,300 generic drug patient education sheets with more than 4,700 brand names.


Searching for Primary Research

Determine keywords for your research topic. Avoid sentences or long phrases.

  • PTSD OR "post traumatic stress disorder"

Add one of these keyword phrases to your search:

  • "empirical study"
  • "empirical research"
  • "primary research"
  • (methods AND results)
  • methodology

Or add more than one to create a larger search string:

  • "empirical study" OR "empirical research" OR "primary research"
  • "empirical study" AND (methods AND results) OR methodology

Your entire search might look like:

  • (PTSD OR "post traumatic stress disorder") AND ("empirical study" OR "empirical research" OR "primary research")

Primary Research

Primary sources are the immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic from people who are directly connected to it. 

Primary sources that describe original research, clinical trials for example, will be published as peer-reviewed journal articles. But this does not mean that all journal articles are primary sources. Primary articles will describe one research project or study. The text of the article will usually include, at minimum: 

  • an introduction with a statement of the research objective
  • a methods section that details exactly how the research was performed, with enough information that another researcher could replicate it
  • a results section that describes the data collected, including charts or graphs and statistical analysis
  • a discussion section that interprets the results within the context of the research objective

These elements are usually summarized in a structured abstract, in which the abstract is split into sections, although not all journals require structured abstracts. 

Secondary Research

Secondary sources are one or more steps removed from the primary sources, though the often quote, reference, or otherwise use the primary source.

Secondary sources are best identified by their use of primary articles as source material. Examples of secondary sources include: review articles, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses. Other sources, such as practice guidelines and expert topic summaries are usually considered secondary as well (although some would argue that they are tertiary since they reference both primary and secondary sources). Secondary sources, especially systematic reviews, are written under specific guidelines and protocols and often include methods sections and abstracts. So the presence of these sections are not necessarily an indication of a primary source. Many secondary sources that are published in peer-reviewed journals will also include an abstract, although many are not structured abstracts and if they are, often contain different section headers.

Identifying Primary Research Articles

How Will I Know It's a Research Study?

To conduct and publish an experiment, an author or team of authors designs an experiment, gathers data, then analyzes the data and discusses the results of the experiment. A published experiment or research study will therefore look very different from other types of articles (newspaper stories, magazine articles, essays, etc.) found in the library databases.

In fact, newspapers, magazines, and websites written by journalists report on psychology research all the time, summarizing published experiments in non-technical language for the general public. Although that kind of article can be interesting to read (and can even lead you to look up the original experiment published by the researchers themselves), to write a research paper about a psychology topic, you should, generally, use experimental articles written by researchers. The following guidelines will help you recognize an experimental article, written by the researchers themselves and published in a scholarly journal. 

Structure of an Experimental Article

Typically, an experimental article has the following sections:

  • Abstract
    • The author summarizes the article
  • Introduction
    • The author discusses the general background of the research topic; often, they will present a literature review, that is, summarize what other experts have written on this particular research topic
  • Methods
    • The author describes the experiment they designed and conducted
  • Results
    • The author presents the data they gathered during the experiment
  • Discussion
    • The author offers ideas about the importance and implications of their research findings, and speculates on future directions that similar research might take
  • Literature Cited
    • The author gives a reference list of sources used in the paper

Also, experimental/empirical articles are written in very formal, technical language (even the titles of the articles sound complicated!) and will usually contain numerical data presented in tables. Because primary research articles are written in technical language by professional researchers for experts like themselves, the articles can be very hard to understand. However, if you carefully review the introduction, results, and discussion sections, you will usually be able to understand and use one or two main ideas that the author is trying to get across, like why their experiment is important, and what results they discovered.

Links to websites that do not include in the address are suggested as information helpful for students and faculty. The websites are not affiliated with Bryant & Stratton College.