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Writing in Economics - Oakland Campus: Scientific Literature

This guide is designed to assist students in the economics department and others writing research papers with an economic or socio-economic focus.

Economics -- a Science?

Primary Literature

Often your research will focus on the primary literature, which are the first-hand accounts of new research written by those who conducted the research.

Scholarly and peer reviewed journal articles are the most widely used primary sources in the sciences.   Dissertations, patents, and other documents also report original research

To recognize primary literature, consider the following:

  • Do the authors write about studies or experiments they conducted?
  • Are details of experimental procedures or methods described?
  • Are experimental results reported?

Types of Scientific Documents

There are many types of scientific documents written for various purposes.  A few of the main ones are described below. For your paper, the most important sources will be journal articles.

Research article (journal article)

  • gives a full report on new research conducted by the authors
  • intermediate length, typically 5-30 pages
  • usually divided into sections such as introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion
  • provides sufficient detail for others to evaluate the conclusions or repeat the experiment
  • cites relevant literature used by the authors in their research

Communication (journal article) - sometimes labeled as a letter or note

  • reports a significant research result that does not require an extensive study
  • brief article, typically 2-4 pages
  • usually not divided into sections
  • cites relevant literature used by the authors in their research
  • should not be confused with letters to the editor

Review article (journal article)

  • does not report original research
  • reviews previously published literature on a particular topic
  • frequently focuses on a specific time period
  • reports on work done by many researchers 
  • long articles, typically 20 - 60 pages
  • usually contains extensive lists of literature references

Other common types of documents that may turn up in your searches:

Conference proceedings

  • reports of presentations made at professional meetings
  • may be full articles or just abstracts of presentations

Patent (not common in the field of Economics)

  • describes a new invention
  • provides legal rights for the inventor
  • a government document


  • describes new research conducted for a Ph.D. or other advanced degree
  • reviewed and accepted by a faculty committee
  • associated with a particular university

Peer Review

You should look for articles from peer reviewed sources for your research.

Peer review is a process where articles are submitted by the journal editor to be read and evaluated by experts in the field before being published. Reviewers recommend whether or not to publish and make comments and suggestions which authors must address before the article is accepted for publication.  The goal is to maintain a high level of quality in articles that are published.

How do you know if a journal is peer reviewed?