Science Matrix

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Every academic year, legions of new college and university students are introduced/reintroduced to the world of science primary literature–those detailed reports of scientific studies written by the researchers who conducted them.

Whether a college student, someone seeking information about a medical condition, or anyone following scientific advances by going to the original source (which is often a journal article), the usual reaction to primary literature is that it is dense, filled with jargon, and incomprehensible. That’s not a surprise–primary literature is written by researchers for other researchers in the same field. Even scientists in other fields may not understand.

But, even if you don’t understand the jargon, you can still glean information from primary literature and find useful related information.

How to do that? Use the Science Matrix.

The parts of the Science Matrix include:

Use secondary literature to better understand what the primary literature is about. Secondary literature is more concise and is usually written at a much more understandable level. Secondary literature provides a summary/an overview and additional explanation of the original publication.

Key secondary sources include:

New Scientist

Science News

Scientific American

Use reviews to put the findings of the original source into perspective.

Key review sources include:

Annual Reviews

Trends In …

Use the bibliography of the original source to find other related and relevant sources of information (other articles, books, reports, etc.). Just remember that everything listed in the bibliography was published prior to the original source; in other words, you are going back in time.

Use the citers of the original source to find additional relevant sources. Citers are published after the original source, or you are going forward in time.

In addition, the original source itself tells its own story. Science primary literature often has a similar format:

Introduction — a mini-review of what is known in that subject area and what the researchers proposed to do.

Materials/Methods — how the research was carried out–in detail.

Results — the findings of the research often described in charts, graphs, images, statistical analyses, etc.

Discussion — how the findings of the research fit into what is known about that subject.

Conclusion — key takeaways and directions for future research.

An example of the Science Matrix:

Questions? Please let me know.