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Online Learning Guide

What Is a Scholarly Journal Article?

You are asked to find a peer-reviewed article from an academic journal. What does that mean? Watch this video by Univesity of Washington Libraries for a better understanding of journals and peer-reviewed articles.

Information About Scholarly Articles and Scientific Papers

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article: A guide from North Carolina State University Libraries which dissects a scholarly article.

How to Read a Scientific Paper: Video presentation that illustrates how to read through a scientific paper.

Websites Versus Library Databases As Information Sources

                                 Reasons for Using Library Databases



Library Databases

There are ads

There are no ads

Materials can be written by anyone

Materials are more likely to be written by experts

Information may not be verified

Information has been checked

There is no guarantee info has been updated

Sources are constantly updated

Can feature any kind of writing

Features only writing that has been published elsewhere

Material has various intended purposes (to entertain to persuade, to sell)

Purpose is to provide information

Access is free

Access is limited to library members, and those who pay significant subscription fees

Articles may cost money

Once accessed, full article text is free

It may or may not be clear who the author is

The author is clearly named

(Palmer, E., 2015, p. 22)                                            © 2015 by ASCD. Reproduced with permission

Palmer, E. (2015). Researching In A Digital World. Danvers, MA: ASCD.

Keywords Or Subject Headings?

Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings (a.k.a. descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases.

It is not easy to guess which subject headings are used in a given database. For example, the phone book's Yellow Pages use subject headings. If you look for "Movie Theatres" you will find nothing, as they are listed under the subject heading "Theatres - Movies."

Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines.  Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.

Here are some key points about each type of search:


  • natural language words describing your topic - good to start with
  • pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database
  • more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways
  • less flexible to search by - need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • database looks for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together
  • database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear
  • may yield too many or too few results
  • if too many results - also uses subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject
  • may yield many irrelevant results
  • results usually very relevant to the topic