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Exploring the Chemical Literature

Tutorial for students in advanced Analytical Chemistry courses for majors, but useful to anyone interested in using the literature of chemistry.

Searching by Author

How do I find articles by a particular author?

author searchEvery database and index offers a way to search 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.

Most modern scientific articles have multiple authors - sometimes a whole lot of them - and all get equal billing in index databases. Accepted practice in chemistry* is usually that the first listed author is the one who did most of the work and writing; other authors are listed in declining order of contribution. In academic chemistry labs, the last author position is usually reserved for the supervising professor who has the grants and runs the lab (known as the Principal Investigator, or PI).

* The question of authorship is subject to much debate and variation across disciplines.  An interesting study on this question can be found in PLOS One.

What's in a name?

Searching author names can sometimes be tricky. Common surnames (like Smith, Zhang, or Lee) are a real problem -- you will probably retrieve results by many different individuals who share the same name and initials. Compound names and Asian names may be treated differently in various databases, so you have to be careful to allow for the name conventions in a specific database. Some authors don't even use a consistent form of their own name! On some papers they may use only initials, on others a first name and initial. As a general rule, start with initials and don't use a first name unless you have to distinguish among many authors with the same name.

  • SciFinder's Explore by Author option makes it easy to choose among similar name entries and combine all likely candidates into your search. Then, if you still get too many, you can use the Refine tool to narrow your results down by publication year, additional author(s), journal, institutional affiliation, or topic keywords.
  • The Web of Science's Author Search feature allows you to start with a last name and initial(s), then deploys an algorithm to help zero in on the specific person you're looking for.  It doesn't always get it right, though.  Sometimes it helps to limit your initial search to a specific date range and only in the Science Citation Index, to reduce the number of authors somewhat.
  • Authors today are encouraged to sign up for an ORCiD ID, a unique permanent identifier assigned only to them and to which past and future works can be attributed.  This gets around the name ambiguity problem very well, but it's unlikely the ORCiD will ever be a true substitute for author name searching because such IDs are voluntary, may have incomplete publication lists, and are not retrospective for past authors. 

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