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PLSC 310: California Politics and Local Government Historical Biography: Researching

Finding peer-reviewed, academic, scholarly articles in databases

It's not hard to get on a computer and find material on any topic using Google. Finding articles in databases that meet your instructor's requirements takes more skill and evaluation, not to mention time.

Many papers you'll write in college require "peer-reviewed articles." The "peers" reviewing these articles are experts in the same field as the author; for instance, physics professors will review a physics professor's article.

Who are the peers in 'peer review'?

A professor or other expert submits their article to the editor of a journal in their field. For instance, a psychology professor might submit an article to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. A physicist would submit a paper to  Applied Physics journalThe editors of these academic journals then ask  the authors' peers - other professors or experts in this field - to evaluate the submitted articles. Those experts then submit their comments and reviews back to the editor, who returns them to the author, who answers the criticisms and rewrites portions of the article to satisfy his "peer" reviewers.

This lengthy review process explains why peer-reviewed journals - also known as scholarly or academic journals - publish only two or four times a year.

Your instructors want to know you can find peer-reviewed articles. This means using limiters to narrow your search results in databases to find these articles.

Librarians can help you with this.

Using limiters and subject terms to narrow your search results

You may have a only hazy idea of what you want to write about. Not a problem. If you don't get the results you hoped for, ask a librarian for assistance.

For instance, a student came to a librarian for help finding articles about "pet therapy" because he was disappointed in his search. Together the student and librarian discover that the terms "animal assisted therapy," "animal therapy" and "animal intervention" are indexed in the database along with "pet therapy." "Pet therapy" alone retrieved articles about treatment for animals that are pets, and also articles about PET, Positron Emission Tomography, a medical scan, which was not what he was looking for.

Once in the database, words and phrases will fill in below as you type in the search field. This means that articles containing those subject terms (also called thesaurus terms) are in the database.

The next challenge is refining your search. The student wanted to write about how animal assisted therapy was used to help veterans. That's where the Boolean operators, ANDNOT or OR, which are built into the database will help. Using AND to add "veterans with PTSD" and using NOT to exclude PET scans, the student refined his search to articles for his paper. His instructor also required peer-reviewed articles of recent research, often meaning limiting to the last five or ten years. Here is how you find those.

On the left-hand side of the page in the illustration below, you will see "Limit To" above small boxes next to Full Text and Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals and a slider bar with search fields for Publication Date.

  1. Peer-Reviewed limits search results to articles from peer-reviewed journals.
  2. Full-Text limits results to articles with full text.
  3. Publication Date allows you to search for articles within a specified date range by entering the year in the entry fields.

Adding more specific search terms, using Boolean operators AND and NOT and limiters Full-Text, Peer-Reviewed and Publication Date will get you closer to articles you can use for your paper.

  • The most important step is to allow yourself enough time to read articles you find.
  • Don't be discouraged if your first search seems complicated or unsuccessful.
  • Keep trying different search terms and allow enough time to peruse your results.
  • Come to the library for help at the reference desk.
  • Ask your instructor if your class can have a class in the library classroom.