WR3 | Workshops
Finding Periodicals & Electronic Databases
Periodicals are publications that are published at regular intervals, such as scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers. Examining periodicals—especially academic journals—is an important aspect of research. Since books often take a year or more to go through the process of peer review, editing, typesetting, and printing before they become available for purchase, they often do not contain the most current information. Articles, on the other hand, appear in a far shorter period of time and generally contain the most up-to-date research. For that reason, you should perform a review of journal articles on your research topic to ensure that you are aware of recent discoveries, arguments, and debates within the academic community who share your research focus.
However, a common problem for undergraduate researchers is not knowing which databases or journals are appropriate to search in for information on a particular topic. There is no shame in this: unless you are a professional scholar, it is difficult to know what the leading journals are in a particular field of study. This is also a problem for faculty performing research outside of their areas of expertise. For example, an English professor would know that the academic journal PMLA or the database JSTOR are excellent places to look for articles on Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, but a physicist might not know where to begin.
To solve this problem, our library has organized periodical databases by discipline in the Database Finder. You may also browse alphabetically if you know the name of the database you are looking for. This is designed to help you locate the specific journals, periodical databases, and reference materials that are appropriate for each discipline or research subject.
When you search for periodicals, it is best to choose a database that has good coverage for the discipline(s) you are working within. However, there are a few databases that have broad coverage of most fields of inquiry. These four databases could easily take you though your entire college career:
- Academic Search Complete
- Web of Science
- ProQuest Central
Locate these databases at the library website with the top-level navigation:
Home > Research Support > Databases. Alternatively, you may use the Database Finder. Open a tab in your browser for each database for testing purposes.
Each database is unique, so you will have to familiarize yourself with how it works. Poke around a bit and get the lay of the land. Get to know these databases by using a keyword search string that you associate with your research project. Use the same search strings in each of the databases and see how the results differ.
Although it is very important to use Boolean searches within the databases, many databases offer additional
search limiters(generally located in the left pane as a series of check boxes) that allow you to further refine your searches. For example, I highly recommend that you check the limiter that ensures you only receive peer-reviewed sources. You may also select to receive only full-text sources or just books and articles, not newspapers or reviews. There are many options to play with to massage your search results. Try to refine your search terms with this feature in each of the databases and see what happens.
The Web of Science database offers the ability to perform what is sometimes called a “citation chase,” where you may systematically examine all of an article’s citations as well as all of the articles that cite it—a critical research skill that I reference in the Introduction to Academic Research. This sort of labor can rapidly increase your collection of relevant sources.