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BMD 202: Survey of Biomedical Sciences Literature

What is Information Literacy?

In short, "Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information." 

Source: "Introduction to Information Literacy," American Library Association, July 27, 2006.

Why is Information Literacy Important?

We live in exciting times. We have so much information right at our fingertips, which has enabled great progress and innovation! However, unlike previous times, so much of this information is unfiltered. With the Internet, anyone can widely disseminate his/her ideas. How do we make sense of it all?! What is trustworthy? How do we efficiently select the most appropriate information for our specific objective? The Association of College and Research Libraries makes the important point:

"The sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively." 

It's easy to get overwhelmed and even paralyzed by the amount of information accessible to us in this "Information Age." However, the ability to successfully wade through today's complex information landscape is critical to not only successfully completing your college degree, but it is also crucial to being marketable and competitive in today's workforce. Ultimately, being information literate impacts your ability to learn new things for the rest of your life. 

Source: "Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education," American Library Association, September 1, 2006.

Information Formats

Biomedical research is published and disseminated in a wide variety of formats. Below are just a few of the key formats:

Books/E-Books

Conference Proceedings/Papers/Posters

Government Reports/Documents

Grey Literature

Journal Articles

News Media

Books/E-Books

Books can be a great resource for background information or to get an overview of a topic. However, you must keep in mind that with biomedical sciences, the information included in a book or e-book is often out of date by the time it is published! For the most part, the publication process for books takes much longer than that of journal articles. For this reason, journal articles are better sources for the most current and accurate biomedical sciences information.

Conference Proceedings/Papers/Posters

Often the first introduction of a biomedical science idea or study results is at professional conferences, in the form of paper or poster presentations. Abstracts, very short summaries of these presentations, are sometimes published in journals.

News Media

Unless you are in the habit of perusing the latest issues of research journals, news media may very well be where you first hear about a break-through biomedical research study. Journalists summarize health research findings for viewers and readers. However, while it's interesting and helpful to first learn about studies from news media, rather than relying on journalists' interpretation of the research and as critical consumers of biomedical research information, you will want to track down and consult the original research studies to make your own assessment of its findings.

Journal Articles

There are a variety of ways biomedical journal articles are classified. One of the most important distinctions is whether an article is "scholarly" or not. For academic, professional, and scientific research for patient care, one will want to focus primarily on scholarly articles. 

Most scholarly articles are also peer-reviewed (sometimes called refereed) articles, meaning that they have undergone a peer-review process prior to being published. This means that experts in the author's field of research have read and thoroughly evaluated the article and approved it for publication. Therefore, peer-reviewed articles are typically of higher quality than non-peer reviewed articles. For this reason, when looking for journal articles on a topic biomedical researchers, clinicians, and scholars focus primarily on peer-reviewed articles. Peer review journals are scholarly journals that publish peer-reviewed articles.

Source: Biomedical Sciences LibGuide, Quinnipiac University

View the short (3-minute and 1-minute) videos below, which further explain the difference between scholarly and popular sources.

Source: What are Scholarly and Peer Reviewed Articles?William and Anita Newman Library, Baruch College, CUNY (City University of New York)

Another way journal articles are often categorized is by whether they (a) report original research conducted by the authors themselves (called primary sources) or (b) whether they synthesize or summarize studies done by others (called secondary sources). The graphic below outlines the characteristics of these two types of article sources.

 

Source: Biomedical Sciences LibGuide, Quinnipiac University

In the health sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full descriptions of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the respiratory effects of e-cigarette use among adults. A secondary source would be an article commenting on, or analyzing scientists' research on e-cigarette use among adults.

Example

Subject Primary Secondary Tertiary
Biomedical Sciences Conference paper on the respiratory effects of e-cigarette use Review article on the current state of e-cigarette research Encyclopedia article on e-cigarettes

Source: Virginia Tech University Libraries

Name That Source

Click the picture to browse an article from the source below.  Is this source popular or scholarly?  Is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

MIND OVER MEAL

(You will need to login with Blazer ID & password if off campus)

Click the picture to browse an article from the source below.  Is this source popular or scholarly?  Is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

Hirschsprung Disease

(You will need to login with Blazer ID & password if off campus)

Click the picture to browse an article from the source below.  Is this source popular or scholarly?  Is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

book cover

A thing or two... about twins

(You will need to login with Blazer ID & password if off campus)

Click the picture to browse an article from the source below.  Is this source popular or scholarly?  Is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

book cover

Eating in mice with gastric bypass surgery causes exaggerated activation of brainstem anorexia circuit

 

Click the picture to browse an article from the source below.  Is this source popular or scholarly?  Is it primary, secondary or tertiary?

Hirschsprung’s disease in twins: a systematic review and meta-analysis

(You will need to login with Blazer ID & password if off campus)

Source 1 is popular & secondary.  You can tell is popular because the vocabulary and tone is written for the general public and it is a general interest piece.  In addition, you can tell it is secondary because the author summarizes original research.

Source 2 is scholarly & tertiary.  Distinctions between sources can be ambiguous; however, encyclopedias are usually scholarly.  Although this resource is written in easy to understand language, it is not a general interest piece but an authoritative source someone would use to get a general overview of the topic.  In addition, this source includes a bibliography and was written by a scientist and a genetic counselor.  This resource is tertiary because it presents condensed material with references back to the primary and/or secondary literature.

Source 3 is popular & secondary for the same reasons as source 1.

Source 4 is scholarly & primary.  You can tell this is a scholarly source because it uses technical language, has a structured format (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, cited references) and has a bibliography.  It is primary because it presents original research.

Source 5 is scholarly & secondary. You can tell this is a scholarly source because it uses technical language, has a structured format (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, cited references) and has a bibliography.  It is secondary because it is a review article that summarizes research other scientists conducted.  

Grey Literature

Grey Literature is "that which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers." Some examples of grey literature include: census, economic and other data sources; conference proceedings and abstracts; informal communications (phone conversations, email, meetings, etc.); newsletters; preprints of journal articles; registered clinical trials; research reports (completed and uncompleted); technical reports; theses and dissertations; blog posts; and white papers.

Source: "What is Grey Literature?" The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature in Washington, DC, 1999.

Another helpful description of grey literature from the APA Style Guide to Electronic Resources (p. 19): "Gray literature is scientific information that falls outside the peer review process but is written by scholars or summarizes a body of scholarly work. Government departments, corporations and trade groups, independent research institutes (i.e., “think tanks”), advocacy groups, and other for-profit and nonprofit organizations produce gray literature. Target audiences for gray literature are broad and include policymakers and the general public." 

For more on grey literature including tips for finding it, see Lister Hill Library's Grey Literature in the Health Sciences Guide.

 

Government Documents/Reports

Government agencies can be an excellent source of information for biomedical research data.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which includes 

The Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ)

These are some of the key health sciences research agencies that produce enormous amounts of health-related publications and reports.

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