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Finding Journal Articles

How to Find Articles

If you're new to research, these pages should be a big help to you. We've written answers to students' most common questions about finding articles, especially those posed by "Library Assignments."

  • How do I find peer-reviewed or refereed articles?
  • What exactly is a research article, anyway?
  • What is a review article?
  • How do I find articles by topic?
  • How do I find articles from specific journals?
  • How do I find articles written by specific authors?

Have questions or need help?

Contact Ask a Librarian through the Chat with Us button on this page. 

How To Search By Author

Perhaps you know that Arthur Kellermann writes articles about emergency medicine. Or you saw a great article on breastfeeding, but all you copied down was the author’s name. Or you want to see if your professor ever publishes anything.

Virtually every database and index has some provision for searching for works written by a particular author. Usually it’s a fairly straightforward process. The database should either have an input box marked “author,” or a generic input box and a way to limit the search to the “author” field.

For example

International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (IPA) and PubMed use generic fields with drop-down menus that allow you to limit the search to “author.” Medline (EBSCO) uses generic field with either tags (au) or drop down boxes to limit to author.


Although different databases expect you to enter the author’s name in different ways, you’re generally safe just using the last name. If the last name is common, you’ll want to add a first and (if you know it) second initial. Thus, if you’re looking for articles by Arthur Kellermann, you could use:

  • Kellermann
  • Kellermann A
  • Kellermann AL

How To Search by Journal Title

First of all, what exactly is a journal, anyway?

A scholarly journal is different from a magazine or other periodical because it’s a respected forum in which scholars share their research. The articles in journals are usually peer reviewed, and can be taken as legitimate scholarly knowledge.

For Example:

If you take a side-by-side look at Molecular Microbiology and Time Magazine , you’ll spot the differences pretty quickly.

So, how do I search for articles from a particular journal?

Easy. Maybe you know that Cell is a highly-respected journal and you want to see some articles from it, or you heard on the radio about a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Either way, virtually all databases allow you to search for articles using some or all of the words in a journal’s title.

Depending on the database you’re using, you’ll either have a text box labeled something like “journal title,” “source title,” or “source publication,” or you’ll have a generic text box which you can limit using drop-down menus. Just type in a journal’s name, and run the search.

Yikes! 1,395 articles!

Of course, if you just search on the title of the journal, you’ll get back every single article from that journal that the database contains. Searching Web of Science for “Nature Cell Biology” gets 1,395 articles. It would take you days to wade through that. But since you’re probably interested in articles on a specific topic or by a specific author, you can go ahead and add “Liu” as the author, or “telomeres” as the topic, and you’re down to a manageable number (if you add both, you’re down to a single article. That’s the power of limiting your search).

How to Search By Topic

First of all, you have to know if you're after a research article, or a review article. Once you know that, most databases and indexes are set up to allow you to do choose a topic and find articles on that topic. All you have to do is pick some words that describe the topic of the articles you want to find, and the database looks for articles on those topics.

Choose Your Search Terms

The words that you choose to describe your topic are called "search terms." The database will try to find your search terms in the most important fields of each article. That is, if you run a search on "cows," the database will look for articles that have the word "cows" in the article title, the author, the journal title, or the abstract (summary) of the article. Sometimes this is referred to as "text word" searching, because the database is just looking the text of your search term to appear anywhere important.

Once you've chosen good search terms, just type them into the text box marked "subject," "topic," or "keywords." Some databases only have one text box to use. Type in your search terms and click the "go" or "search" button.

Now try it with some of your own keywords, on a different database.

Here are some examples of good keywords:

Peer-reviewed or Refereed

What Does "Peer-reviewed" or "Refereed" Mean?

Peer review is a process that journals use to ensure the articles they publish represent the best scholarship currently available. When an article is submitted to a peer reviewed journal, the editors send it out to other scholars in the same field (the author's peers) to get their opinion on the quality of the scholarship, its relevance to the field, its appropriateness for the journal, etc.

Publications that don't use peer review (Time, Cosmo, Salon) just rely on the judgment of the editors whether an article is up to snuff or not. That's why you can't count on them for solid, scientific scholarship.

Note:This is an entirely different concept from "Review Articles."

How do I know if a journal publishes peer-reviewed articles?

Usually, you can tell just by looking. A scholarly journal is visibly different from other magazines, but occasionally it can be hard to tell, or you just want to be extra-certain. In that case, you turn to Ulrich's Periodical Directory Online. Just type the journal's title into the text box, hit "submit," and you'll get back a report that will tell you (among other things) whether the journal contains articles that are peer reviewed, or, as Ulrich's calls it, Refereed.

They even use a cute little referee's jersey icon:

Remember, even journals that use peer review may have some content that does not undergo peer review. The ultimate determination must be made on an article-by-article basis.

For example, the journal Science publishes a mix of peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed content. Here are two articles from the same issue of Science

This one is not peer-reviewed: 
This one is a peer-reviewed research article:

That is consistent with the Ulrichsweb description of Science, which states, "Provides news of recent international developments and research in all fields of science. Publishes original research results, reviews and short features."

Test these periodicals in Ulrichs:

  • Advances in Dental Research
  • Clinical Anatomy
  • Molecular Cancer Research
  • Journal of Clinical Electrophysiology

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