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.

Biological Literature: Research vs Review Articles

Research Articles

A research article describes an original study that the author(s) conducted themselves.

It will include a brief literature review, but the main focus of the article is to describe the theoretical approach, methods, and results of the authors' own study.

Look at the abstract or full text of the journal article and look for the following:

  • Was data collected?
  • Were there surveys, questionnaires, interviews, interventions (as in a clinical trial)?
  • Is there a population?
  • Is there an outline of the methodology used?
  • Are there findings or results?
  • Are there conclusions and a discussion of the significance?

A research article has a hypothesis, a method for testing the hypothesis, a population on which the hypothesis was tested, results or findings, and a discussion or conclusion.

Review Articles

Review articles summarize the current state of research on a subject by organizing, synthesizing, and critically evaluating the relevant literature. They tell what is currently known about an area under study and place what is known in context. This allows the researcher to see how their particular study fits into a larger picture.

Review articles are not original research articles. Instead, they are a summary of many other original research articles. When your instructor tells you to obtain an "original research article" or to use a primary source, do not use an article that says review.

Review articles may include a bibliography that will lead you back to the primary research reported in the article.

Systematic Review Articles

A systematic review is an appraisal and synthesis of primary research papers using a rigorous and clearly documented methodology in both the search strategy and the selection of studies. This minimizes bias in the results. The clear documentation of the process and the decisions made allow the review to be reproduced and updated.

Characteristics of a Systematic Review

  • A clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • An explicit, reproducible methodology
  • A systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria
  • An assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias
  • A systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

This site is maintained by the librarians of George A. Spiva Library.
If you have a question or comment about the Library's LibGuides, please contact the site administrator.