Pharmacy Students: Year 1: Publication Types

Information resources selected for year 1 Pharmacy students.

This guide is adapted from Article Types: What's the Difference Between Newspapers, Magazines, and Journals, created by Maria Atilano, librarian at Thomas G. Carpenter Library, University of North Florida. Content is re-used with permission.

Publication types

Article: Articles can address any topic that the author decides to explore and can reflect opinion, news, research, instruction, or other topics. Articles can use a variety of methodologies. Examine an article's abstract, objectives, and methods sections to determine the topic, goal, and methodologies used in that article.

Conference Abstract: One format of presentation at scientific conferences is the oral presentation of a paper. The author stands in front of a room of attendees and reads a paper s/he has written. You may find an abstract describing the content of the talk in a journal. Many authors will write their oral presentation into a manuscript and submit it to a journal for peer review and eventual publication as a full article.

Conference Posters:  Posters are one method of presentation at scientific conferences. The 3 foot x 5 foot print posters include text and images. The author is assigned to stand next to the poster at the conference and discusses the content with attendees. There is no written record of a poster presentation. You may find an image of the full poster on a conference website or a faculty's own website, or may find an abstract describing the poster in a journal.

Drug Monograph: A published item focused on providing information on a single drug, created by examining all available published evidence on a drug and summarizing the evidence. Drug Monographs include information on approved uses of a drug, dosing, contraindication, adverse effects, and many other categories of data. Many Drug Monographs are put together and arranged alphabetically in a drug monograph source such as American Hospital Formulary Service Drug Information (AHFS-DI).

Guideline: Guidelines are a specialized type of review article that focus on providing immediate clinical guidance. The authors gather and assess all available evidence about a clinical topic such as “the most effective drug for a newly-diagnosed diabetic” or “best practices for counseling patients.” They summarize this evidence and write a guideline that directs the clinician to make the best possible decision for the patient based on current evidence.

Handbook: A monograph or book focused on providing information about one aspect or category of all drugs. For example, there are handbooks focusing on intravenous drug use; use of drugs while pregnant; or adverse reactions. They are created by examining all available published evidence on drugs and summarizing the data for safe and effective use.

Journal: A regularly published collection of articles that focus on topics specific to a particular academic discipline or profession. Journals might be published monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or even annually. Journals can publish articles, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, continuing education readings, or abstracts from a professional conference. Most journals require subscriptions to access their content. USC students are able to access thousands of journals through subscriptions maintained by the USC Libraries.

Monograph/Book: A published item that is focused on providing full, detailed information on one topic. Examples of monographs include any single book on a single subject-- your course textbooks are all monographs.

Package Insert: The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) approves drugs for sale in the United States. The approval process requires the creation of a Package Insert, a document that provides specific information for users of the drug. The Package Insert is included with the drug when purchased. It is a valuable source of data for pharmacists and patients.

Review Article: This article type consists of a summary of the previously published research information on a specific topic. It is often confused with "literature review," which is a required portion of many research articles.

Regulatory Documentation: When drugs are approved, the manufacturer must provide detailed data to the US FDA. The regulators in this office examine the data and discuss it with the manufacturer and other FDA personnel, sometimes asking for additional information. The materials created by the manufacturer during this approval process, the discussions between the FDA and manufacturer, and the discussions occurring within the FDA throughout the approval process, are considered Regulatory Documentation. A Package Insert is one specific type of regulatory documentation.

Website: Online content accessed through the hypertext transfer protocol (the HTTP that starts website addresses). Be aware that almost any type of content (such as books, journal articles, conference abstracts, drug monographs, package inserts, etc.) can be placed online. Your faculty, and style guides for writing, will want you to identify the publication type more specifically than "website" if possible. Examine the "How do I know?" box on this page to learn clues about determining if the item you are viewing is a website or a more specific publication type. 

What level of information?

Primary sources are written records describing the purpose, methods, and result of an experiment or series of experiments. Examples of primary sources frequently used in pharmacy practice include journal articles that report on a randomized controlled trial, a cohort study, or clinical trial; patents, that describe conducting an experiment for the purposes of claiming original rights to the invention;

There are two types of secondary sources used in pharmacy practice. The first type includes indexing and abstracting sources that help you find relevant primary sources. Some examples include the databases named PubMed, Google Scholar, SciFinder, and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts. The second type of secondary source are written documents that summarize a significant number of primary sources and are intended to educate a health care professional who has some basic knowledge of the topic. Some examples include literature review articles (sometimes called "review articles"), systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and evidence-based summaries.

Tertiary sources are written documents that summarize a significant number of primary and secondary sources and are intended to provide quick access to facts or information. Some examples include drug monographs, drug-focused handbooks like The Red Book or Handbook on Injectable Drugs, or an app like Epocrates.

Journal-based vocabulary

Your faculty and librarians will use these terms during your education, so it is useful to have a source to refer to.

Abstract: A brief overview or summary of the content of an article that provides details about the article. Abstracts can also be written for other dense scientific material, such as posters or books.

Article: Articles can address any topic that the author decides to explore and can reflect opinion, news, research, instruction, or other topics. Articles can use a variety of methodologies. Examine an article's abstract, and objectives and methods sections to determine the topic, goal, and methodologies used in that article.

Issue: A single, regular publication of a journal. Issues are usually numbered. A journal can set their own issue schedule: one issue per week, month, bimonthly, or quarterly.

Volume: A collection of a set of issues of a journal. Volume numbers help identify which issues of the journal were published during a particular year. A journal can set their own volume schedule: one volume per year, or two volumes per year, are the most common.

Supplement: Issue and volume numbers are maintained consistently throughout a journal's life. Issues have a finite number of pages. If a journal wishes to publish additional content (articles, data sets, conference posters, etc.) that would not fit in the issue due to page number constraints, they can choose to publish a supplement to this issue.

Literature Review: An important part of research, a literature review consists of a survey of previously published information that focuses on a particular subject under investigation. For example, a researcher looking into whether a specific drug can cause a specific adverse effect would begin by looking for articles, books, and other materials that reflected previous research into this topic. The function of the review is to identify what is already known about the topic and to provide a knowledge foundation for the current study.

Peer Reviewed/Refereed Journal: When a journal is said to be "peer reviewed," it means that the editors send manuscripts being considered for publication to "peer reviewers:" faculty and researchers in pharmacy, pharmacology, and related areas. Reviewers carefully examine articles to ensure that they meet journal criteria for subject matter and style, and can ask for changes to presentation of data and depth of discussion. The process ensures that articles are appropriate to a particular journal and that they are high-quality.

How do I know?

Identifying the level of information and publication type is the first step in evaluating evidence. Information from any level can be published in print or online/electronically; likewise, nearly any publication types can be published in print or online/electronically. Look at these clues to make your determination of the publication type:

  • Examine the full item, concentrating on the headers and footers, and content on the first page of the item such as masthead (logo and title of the overall publication), title, and authorship information. Focus on information required to be in a citation and consider it logically. If the item includes a journal title, year, and volume and issue number, it is likely an article from a journal. If the item includes the word "chapter" anywhere, it is likely a book chapter or a full book. If a drug company or the Food and Drug Administration is identified as an author, you may be looking at regulatory documentation.
  • Consider the goal, purpose, or intent of the item. Who would read this? What would they learn? Is it an introduction to the concept? For people with significant prior knowledge? This can help you determine whether it is primary, secondary, or tertiary. 
  • Examine the number of references within the item and skim the titles of the items being referenced. Secondary and Tertiary sources tend to include more references and include references to other secondary sources, as these sources summarize large amounts of primary and secondary literature. Primary sources will tend to have fewer references and the references tend to be to other primary literature.
  • If the item is online, look at the URL or address bar and try to glean clues from the words being used. The website includes guidelines, a specific tertiary publication type. Many other publishers of tertiary data in pharmacy practice include their names in the URL and you will be introduced to them during classes. The website provides access to tertiary drug monographs and tertiary handbooks published by Micromedex, a major publisher of pharmacy-specific tertiary information. The .gov ending is only allowed to be used on government-sponsored websites, which could be a clue that you are reading regulatory documentation. 
  • Read the abstract or summary. This abstract clearly states that the article it summarizes is a literature review article. If there is no abstract or summary, this is a clue it could be a tertiary literature type. If there is only an abstract, you may be looking at an indexing database. 
  • Think "up the level" with the clues you find. This abstract clearly states that the article it summarizes is a randomized controlled trial. A randomized controlled trial is one type of primary literature. Therefore, this full article would be an example of primary literature.