Graziano and Raulin (8th ed)Graziano & Raulin
Research Methods (8th edition)

Primary Sources

Journal Articles

Journals provide both primary and secondary sources of information, although the majority of journals are considered primary sources (i.e., they report the procedures and results of original research studies). 

Research reports include a brief literature review, a statement of the problem and the hypotheses to be tested, a detailed account of the procedures, the results and statistical analyses, and a discussion of how the researchers interpret the results. In the discussions of their findings, researchers relate their results to the prevailing models or theories, thus helping to integrate new information and add to the base on which further research and theory development will rest.

Although journal articles are the most important source of information about previous research on a given topic, most students find research articles difficult to read. The reason is that journals have severe space constraints, and researchers have a lot to say within those space constraints. The result is a paper that makes sense to someone who already knows the field, but that is too dense and cryptic for most students to understand until they have become more familiar with the area and with the general theories and procedures that have dominated the area. 

It is very useful for students to start their research into a topic that is new to them by reading a secondary source, such as a review chapter on the topic or even a section of an advanced textbook dealing with the topic. Such background reading will make the process of reading the original journal articles much less frustrating and much more helpful.

There are tens of thousands of scholarly journals published. Therefore, one might expect that one could find a journal devoted to just about any topic. To some degree, that may be true, but the fact is that most research topics cut across conceptual domains, so research on that topic might be found in a hundred different journals. 

Let's take the topic of schizophrenia, for example. Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder characterized by gross distortions in thinking, perception, emotion, and behavior. Some journals are devoted exclusively to schizophrenia and related topics (e.g., Schizophrenia Bulletin or Schizophrenia Research). Most of the research on this disorder, however, is published in journals that deal with a variety of psychological or psychiatric problems (e.g., Journal of Abnormal Psychology, American Journal of Psychiatry, Archives of General Psychiatry). But important research and theorizing about schizophrenia appears in general psychology journals (e.g., Psychological Bulletin, Journal of Experimental Psychology, and American Psychologist), sociology journals (e.g., American Journal of Sociology, Deviant Behavior, and Journal of Social Issues), biological journals (e.g., Biological Psychiatry, Archives of Neurology, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience), policy journals (e.g., Journal of Mental Health Administration, Psychiatric Services, New Directions in Mental Health Services), and general science and medical journals (e.g., Science, Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine). 

If you read only material that appeared in the journals obviously devoted to the topic of schizophrenia, you would get a very distorted picture of the research in this vast area. We challenge you to find as many journals as you can that have published work on schizophrenia. We bet that you can find a hundred different journals within an hour or two, and in time you can probably find a thousand different journals with schizophrenia-related research. No wonder it is such a challenge to find all the material that you are seeking.


 Dissertations are another source that report the results of research studies. Dissertations are research studies conducted by advanced graduate students as part of the requirements for a Ph.D. Many of these studies are eventually published in journals, but they are also available in their original form to researchers and students. Universities will include the dissertations conducted at their own institutions as part of their library collection, but a copy of virtually any dissertation can be obtained in a few days through an organization called University Microfilms, which maintains copies of each dissertation from hundreds of universities.

Dissertations have an advantage over research articles in journals. That advantage is that there are usually no page constraints on the material. Therefore, the author can review background material in more detail, outline theories with examples that make it easier to follow the theory, and give the details of the research design, procedures, and results. 

Most students find it much easier to read dissertations than research articles on the same topic because of the more leisurely presentation of the material. For example, a typical dissertation that might run a hundred manuscript pages (double-spaced, type-written) will have to be condensed to 25 manuscript pages for publication. No wonder journal articles seem cryptic!

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