Many first perceive literature to be defined as creative works like fiction or or collections of poetry. In scholarly and professional terms, literature is also defined as works available or published about a particular concept. It is like a world of many types of publications and information! The literature is commonly found in an index and database search, and used as references cited in a research publication. See below for examples and explanations.
Professional literature falls under 3 categories, primary, secondary, and tertiary. Within those categories are various types of publications. See the table for their definitions, attributes and examples:
|Definition||Attributes||Types of Publications||Example|
|Primary Literature||Direct documentation or interaction with an event or occurrence.||
Results of original research;
||Beer, K., Kolbe, E., Kahana, N.B., Yayon, N., Weiss, R., Menegazzi, P., Bloch, G., & Helfrich-Forster (2018). Pigment-Dispersing Factor-expressing neurons convey circadian information in the honey bee brain. Open Biology, 8(1). DOI: 10.1098/rsob.170224|
|Secondary Literature||Based on an indirect interaction with an event or information.||Summarizes, uses, discusses, or comments on information from primary sources.||
||Lane, D. (2003). Introduction to statistics [eBook edition]. Rice University. https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/introduction-to-statistics|
|Tertiary Literature||Also based on an indirect interaction with an event or information.||Utilizes and distills information from both primary and secondary sources.||
||National Institute of Standards and Technology (2018). NIST chemistry webbook. https://webbook.nist.gov/chemistry/|
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A reference work is a collection of general facts within a field. These can be used to find standards, measurements, or the general background of a theory. Many types of reference works exist, but these are ones more commonly used in the sciences.
International Standard Organization (n.d). Standards. https://www.iso.org/standards.html
Certain scientific fields communicate their findings using other types of publications:
Gray (or grey) literature generally consists of publications that are not distributed through scholarly or commercial channels such as professional journals. Types of gray literature may include:
Some definitions of gray literature include publications such as blogs, statistical reports, and working papers.
The purpose of gray literature varies and depends on the setting in which it is published and distributed. In corporations or organizations, gray literature may be used to distribute new information, communicate for internal purposes, or to document activities. One example is State Licensed Substance Abuse Treatment Programs in Philadelphia, a report of The Pew Charitable Trust's study on medical-assisted treatment (MAT) and opioid-related deaths. For academic contexts, gray literature may be a forum for presenting ideas that may be emerging or do not yet have wide interest.
Gray literature should be considered in any literature review in order have a broader view of what is discussed and researched on a particular topic.
The following document types are often retrieved in a database search. These are generally known as "front material." Although they do not communicate original research or generate new knowledge, their role is to provide an arena for commentary and discussion within a field:
Other types of these documents include opinion pieces, news, and obituaries.
Errata is a notice of a production error for a published work. A corrigendum is the same except it notes an error made by an author.
An errata and a corrigendum are issued by a publisher and provide corrections. Please note if a publication of interest has one in order to get its most updated or correct information.
See the following examples:
1. (Figure 1) Erratum to "Positron emission tomography-directed therapy for patients with limited-stage diffuse large B-cell lymphoma," Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2020.
2. (Figure 2) Corrigendum to "Shock-synthesized quasicrystals," by Peter Nemeth, IUCrJ 8(2), 2020.
An expression or statement of concern is issued by the editorial board of a publication regarding a particular work. It indicates the possibility that a work may be unreliable, or its intellectual merits are highly subject to debate. A statement of concern may be issued for one or a combination of the following reasons:
This statement does not indicate that actual misconduct or unethical behavior occurred, nor provides notice of a finding or final judgment. Instead, it is an editorial boards' caution to readers that a work may be questionable, and allows a reader to make their own conclusion.
In this example, the editors of Frontiers in Public Health issued a statement of concern for the 2014 article, Questioning the HIV-AIDS hypothesis: 30 years of dissent, by Patricia Goodson. Such statements do not always lead to a retraction or withdrawal of a publication, but in this example, the editorial board issued one for the original article 4 years later.
Source: Frontiers Editorial Office (2015, February 13). Publisher statement on "Questioning the HIV-AIDS hypothesis: 30 years of dissent." Frontiers in Public Health, 3:37. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2015.00037
A retraction is a statement that indicates a published work had been withdrawn from a publication, with reasons for the decision. See the Research Guide, What is a retraction?, for an explanation with examples.
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