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What is scientific literature?

Scientific literature basically consists of all scientific publications and records that report original empirical and theoretical work in any field of science. Scientific publications that are not from peer reviewed and respected sources such as research papers or from peer reviewed journals or books published by reputed scientific publishers may be termed as “grey literature”. This is because this type of material is difficult to trace and not widely available, so even though “grey literature” may be very useful and have important information it is also difficult to trust. It is best to use peer reviewed research publications when reviewing and studying scientific literature.

(There are also research publications called scientific reviews, which are created by scientists who study all the known and available research papers they can find usually on a narrow subfield of science (like a particular theory in behavioural ecology in the science of ecology) and create a written synthesis and condensation of all the conclusions and results of the previous research. In this process new conclusions are also drawn up. Such studies are called scientific reviews and are the opposite of “original research” which is the type of research in which scientists actually plan and conduct actual studies whose results they publish. Both types of studies have their uses.)


What is the importance of reviewing scientific literature before planning a study? 

Scientific literature should be reviewed before and during the planning stage of a study because -

  1. You will know whether any research similar to that which you are planning has already been carried out. If someone has already conducted the type of study you were planning to do in the area you were going to do it in, that reduces the value and the need for your study. In studies like ecological studies it is highly unlikely that anyone would have conducted a similar study on a similar biodiversity group in a similar location and setting with the intent to answer similar questions. So in such a case even if there is some amount of similarity between your study and past studies your study will still have value. But simple studies such as inventories which have already been done in the same locality on the same biodiversity group and have not been done too long ago (maybe within a few decades) will nullify any value or requirement for similar studies to be repeated on the same biodiversity group in the same locality. It will basically be seen as superfluous.

  2. You'll get some ideas on how to plan your study better -

In the case where some aspects of studies that have been carried out and published earlier are the same you will get better insights and more ideas on how to tackle the problems that you set out to solve with your study.

  1. Science grows through continuing and building up on previous work -

Science grows because scientists learn, know and then build upon research that has already been done. This is how science progresses. Therefore the first step to progressing science will be knowing what's already been discovered in a field. Questions that arise from published work can give you ideas for new studies that you can undertake to answer those questions and progress science.

How can you review scientific literature?

You review scientific literature by first searching for it. The following table lists some useful free online search engines that can be used for searching for scientific studies relating to biodiversity and ecology. -


Academic Search Engine


Google Scholar




Type in the keywords relating to your study and see what pops up. For example if I’m interested in carrying out the amphibian inventory of place “x“ in Papua New Guinea that’s what I’ll type in. If anyone has conducted and published studies on the amphibian inventories of place “x” in Papua New Guinea in a peer reviewed scientific journal, it’ll turn up. These days every major scientific journal worth looking at or sending your research too have either the citations or online versions of all their public content indexed by these search engines. So if nothing turns up, it’s pretty safe to suggest no one has done the study and that makes your work which you plan to conduct more valuable and necessary for conservation.

When undertaking any kind of study, its good to study all the similar work done by others. Work using similar methods, or done in a similar location, or similar biodiversity group or with a similar aim in the study will lead to the development of your own knowledge base and will help you formulate ideas for the plan and layout of your own studies.


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