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This guide leads to research databases and other sources of information for biology, chemistry, physics and math.

Research Communication: Graphic and Explanation


To do research effectively, one must understand how research literature is produced, packaged, and communicated in one's profession. The graphic, text, and video below explain how research is communicated through various information products. 

In the graphic, start with the top "Gap in knowledge" circleSci-tech information is the product of research and development, and the structure of the scholarly literature is created as a result of packaging and communicating the information. 

  • If you move clockwise around the figure, it demonstrates how --during the course of a research study-- information is produced and communicated in various “packages” of information through time. It shows a path from a research idea, to research, to publication. Circles show process steps; shaded rectangles show the communication products at each step.
  • If you move counterclockwise around the figure, it demonstrates a typical path a student might follow to explore the literature of a topic.
  • Continue -below the graphic- to read an explanation of each stage and/or watch the video explanation.



Research Communication Graphic


Curl, SR. 2001. Subramanyam Revisited. College & Research Libraries  62:455-64.

Subramanyam K. 1979. Scientific Literature. In: Kent A, Lancour H, Daily J, editors.  Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science.  Volume 26. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc. p 376-548.



 video-iconWatch a video explanation (8.39 minutes, 16.26 MB, with closed captions) or continue reading below.

  • Gap in knowledge (researchers).  

     Research begins at the top of the image with a gap in knowledge. A researcher translates his or her gap in knowledge into questions to be answered through research. By the way, a research proposal provides a plan for answering those questions. Proceed clockwise around the graphic to see how the literature evolves from the researcher's gap in knowledge.


  • Research & Development.    

     Process.  The process of research communication proceeds clockwise around the graph and so begins with "Research and Development" (the first circle to the right of a gap in knowledge). At this stage, the researcher/developer is recording methods, data and observations from the research study for internal use rather than for distribution to others.

     Product.  The information "products" at this stage are indicated in the rectangle and might be scientific lab notebooks, researcher notes, technical specifications, observation diaries, data files, etc.


  • Informal Communication.   

     Process. Informal communication occurs between the researcher and trusted others. The information is not intended to become public knowledge at this stage. The phrase "invisible college" refers to an elite group of scientists working in a specific research discipline who communicate with each other regularly through informal channels.

     Product.  Hallway conversations, emails, meetings, and online collaborative work groups are examples of how research is communicated informally among researchers/developers.


  • Protecting Intellectual Property.   

     Process. For research projects that produce inventions and copyrightable material (such as software), communication may involve staking claims to rights afforded by legal "ownership" of intellectual property.

     Product. The products of protecting intellectual property include patents, trademarks, servicemarks, and copyright.   With some exceptions, patent applications are published after 18 months. Once published, the public has access to patent documents describing the patent.


  • Formal Communication.   

     Process.  Formal communication of original research to the science, math, or technology community typically occurs at a conference, in a research report, or through publication in a journal. Formal communication is critical, because science and technology advance more quickly when results are distributed widely and others can build on the results. Formal publication is also highly desirable to give prestige to researchers and build their reputations. Greater prestige is provided by conferences or journals that use peer review and have lower acceptance rates. That is, the more selective the conference or journal, the greater the prestige. Publication may be in print, online, or both.

The researcher will often report his/her original research at a conference first and may later publish the results in a journal article.  If a conference publishes its conference proceedings, the proceedings will contain full papers presented at the conference and/or abstracts of papers presented.
Journal:  With the exception of some technology disciplines, publication of research in a journal article provides wider distribution and greater prestige to the researcher than conference proceedings. In information systems and computer science disciplines, highly selective conferences that publish their proceedings can offer equivalent or greater prestige.
Research Report: Some situations require that the research be documented in a specific form: thesis, dissertation, or technical report.  A thesis is written to obtain a master's degree, and a dissertation is written to obtain a doctorate from a higher education institution. They are archived by the university granting the degree and are sometimes available through interlibrary loan, sometimes available at a cost from a commercial dissertation supplier, and sometimes accessible in research databases.  Agencies that fund research, such as NASA, require formal reporting of research results in technical reports that, if not classified, may be obtained from a federal agency's website.


  • Indexing and Abstracting (surrogation).  

     Process.  If one had to scan individual issues of journals to find articles, research in the literature would take a very long time. Indexing and abstracting services provide citations and abstracts for articles from many different journals in a single searchable database. Citations and abstracts are "surrogates" -- or representations or metadata -- for the full articles, and research databases are searchable collections of surrogates. However, many research databases include not only the surrogates but also the full text of the articles. 
     Databases are aimed at specific audiences such as scholars in particular discipline or subject area. A research database may index conference proceedings, books, and reports in addition to journal articles -- in order to better serve the professional audience at which it is aimed. 

     Product.  Research databases, library catalogs, bibliographies on a particular topic, and product catalogs are all examples of "surrogation" in order to help people find science, math and technology information.


  • Background Information (repackaging).   

     Process.  Research results originally communicated in journal articles and other formal communication products can be repackaged to serve a particular purpose. Chemical data can be compiled in a single book or database for use in a lab; overviews of science or technology topics can be compiled for those unfamiliar with the topic concepts; and definitions can be compiled for information technology, medicine, math, biology, etc.

     Product.  Encyclopedias provide overviews; handbooks compile "handy" data in one package (perhaps in an online database or in a print handbook). Monographs (books) can provide in-depth and comprehensive review and explanation of a specific topic.
                       Science and technology research is also repackaged in popular news and magazine articles written for the general public. And it is repackaged in articles in trade and technical magazines for professionals where the purpose is to provide news of research results published elsewhere.


  • Guides to Literature.   

     Process.  A kind of "super surrogation" occurs in sci-tech communication -- with the purpose of directing people to sources.

     Product.  The products of "super surrogation" are guides to the literature of information technology, science or mathematics. Guides provide an annotated list of sources important for finding the literature of the discipline. The Mundt Library's research guides, such as "Information Systems, Information Assurance, and Computer Science Guide to Resources" or "Sciences and Math Resources Guide" are examples of such guides to the literature.


  • Gap in knowledge (students exploring the literature).  

     Students typically gain knowledge of the literature by moving counterclockwise around the graphic.  In other words, a student might start with guides to the literature, gather background and basic understanding with specialized encyclopedias and technical/trade magazines, and then move on to find journal articles and conference proceedings.