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.

Information Literacy Research Skill Building: Sciences

This guide contains information literacy instructional materials based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.


assortment of 3D shapes, graphs, math symbols, and numbers

"Science is not only an intellectual and practical activity; it is a social one. The social, intellectual, and practical aspects of science are interlocking and help to characterize the enterprise of science.

Scientific work takes place within a community, and its results must measure up to the standards of that community."

-Collier's Encyclopedia (1994 edition)

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver
(1864 - 1943)
Agricultural researcher

Disciplines within the Sciences

Biology, Psychology, Engineering, Computer Science, Agriculture, Chemistry, Astronomy, Geology, Mathematics, Ecology, Geography, Horticulture

History of the Sciences

Collier's Encyclopedia (1994 edition) defines science as "a human creation arising from the need to make sense of the world...."

In the mid-17th century England, small groups of scholars and philosophers began to meet in various places (including taverns) in London to discuss the experimental method of scientific inquiry propounded by Francis Bacon.

These groups, which later became known as the "Invisible Colleges" could not meet openly and regularly because of the civil strife in England. After the Civil War ended, these natural philosophers decided to establish a formal constitution. On November 28, 1660, the Royal Society was founded. One of the publications started by this society, a journal entitled Proceedings of the Royal Society is still in publication.The Washington State University Libraries own fulltext access to this journal from 1664 to the present.

"The history of scientific literature is inseparably connected with that of scientific societies."

-Thales, Pythagoras, Academy of Plato, academies of Alexandria.

Characteristics and Structure of Scientific Literature

Scientific literature embodies the existing store of objective knowledge, serves as the foundation on which the incremental progress of science rests, and is the product of scientific advances.

The book has never been a medium by which scientists have been able to quickly disseminate new information on scientific developments. In the 16th and 17th centuries, authors had to work several years to accumulate enough information that would warrant the publication of a book.

Observations and discoveries were more quickly published and made available through booklets and pamphlets. Today, this pattern is still in place. Scientists rely primarily on journal articles for up-to-date information.

The literature of the Sciences incorporates a wide variety of resources:

  • Unpublished documents, notebooks, journals, diaries
  • Letters to editors, or short articles discussing the nature of current research
  • Conference literature such as research paper presentations and published conference proceedings
  • Research reports, papers published in refereed primary journals, as well as books, technical reports, dissertations and theses

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Literature in the Sciences

One may also categorize information in the sciences by its place in the publication cycle.

Primary Sources

Primary resources in the sciences would include experimental samples used for lab research, experimental results printed in logs and diaries, and other such raw data that has not been re-worked. If this information is not available, one can also consider initial publications reporting scientific research as a primary resource.

Secondary Sources

Tasks of identifying, selecting, and digesting pertinent information from the mass of scientific literature are important phases of the total process of scientific research and development. Bibliographies, indexes, abstracts, catalogs, directories, handbooks, and yearbooks should be considered secondary resources.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary publications are derived by further surrogation of secondary literature. To begin your scientific research, you might consult a bibliography of bibliographies, directory of directories, or a guide to the literature in any given scientific discipline.

Users of scientific information usually reverse the direction of information publication - from tertiary to primary literature - when they are conducting research.

Formats and Types of Information in the Sciences

  • videotapes
  • graphs
  • charts
  • tables
  • company files
  • patent specifications
  • letters to journals
  • newsletters
  • standards, specifications, codes of practice
  • trade literature
WSU Libraries, PO Box 645610, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-5610, 509-335-9671, Contact Us