Rensselaer Libraries

General Research Guidelines for Science

Posted: Dec 7, 2009

Where do I start?

A lot depends on what you need to find.

  • A book? Do a Title search in the Libraries' Catalog to see if we own a specific item, or a keyword search on a topic of interest to see a variety of items that the Libraries own.
  • Articles? Go to the journals tab on the library main page to connect to online resources that allow you to search for articles.
  • A general introduction to a topic? Try an encyclopedia, or a literature review.
  • Basic data, properties, formulas, etc.? Try handbooks and manuals.

What is "primary" scientific literature?

  • The original detailed published reports of scientific and technical research.
  • Most report the results and conclusions from experimental work.
  • Represent advances in scientific knowledge.
  • Are published in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals (paper and electronic versions).
  • You may find scholarly research reports on the Internet, however these journals are costly, and not offered "free" over the net.

Sources like encyclopedias, books, handbooks, magazines, newspapers, and trade journals have valuable information, but generally are not considered primary literature.

How can I find publications from the primary literature?

  • Use a database that reviews scholarly publications in the subject area that you are interested in.
  • Selecting appropriate databases is part of the research process. Online research databases are subscription services that provide access to the library's resources.
  • Many online databases subscribed to by Rensselaer Libraries are based on print versions that have a history of reliability and continuity. In some science areas, print indexing/abstracting database services are over 100 years old. The Internet is simply the latest way for them to deliver information to researchers.
  • Databases lead you to citations and summaries for articles published in scholarly journals, and in most cases to full text.
  • Databases cover journals owned by many libraries, not just ours; not all citations will lead to journals available in Rensselaer Libraries. To see if we own a journal, click on the SFX menu button image link.
  • Subscribed electronic full-text journals are linked directly from the Catalog record, EJournals database and SFX menu button image link.

What clues exist to tell if a journal is scholarly?

  • Articles have footnotes or bibliographies, showing what sources were used for research. Citations to prior research are a key part of the scientific research and publication process.
  • It is published by a reputable academic, society, or commercial publisher.
  • It probably would not be sold on most newsstands.
  • There is little or no advertising; career ads are OK.
  • The subscription cost is often very high (hundreds to thousands of dollars per year).

What does "peer review" mean?

  • Essentially, the peer review process is a quality control mechanism for scholarly journals.
  • The journal editor is responsible for maintaining high editorial standards and ensuring the journal fulfils its stated mission.
  • The editor makes a preliminary decision whether a submitted paper is suitable for inclusion in the journal.
  • If so, it enters the peer review process.
  • Two to four independent, anonymous reviewers who are fellow researchers/practitioners and subject area specialists decide if the paper is worthy of publication, if it needs revisions and re-review, or if it should be rejected.

What is "scientific style"?

  • Scientific articles have defined parts, e.g., introduction, methods, analysis [results], discussion, and conclusion
  • References are cited in a standardized format that may vary from one journal to another.
  • The content is factual, not opinion.

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