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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.

Finding Books

What kinds of books are out there?

Books (also known as monographs) come in all sizes and types. They fall into the category of Secondary literature, in that they don't report new research -- you can think of them as a form of review. Most books in the sciences consist of review-type chapters written by various authors and compiled by one or more editors, and they are rarely peer-reviewed. They are a good way to learn about a broad topic in a way that isn't possible with journal articles. They are usually written for an audience of researchers and advanced students.

Textbooks fall in the category of Tertiary literature, and are books written specifically for the purpose of teaching students. They contain review sections and exercises.

E-books are simply books that you can access in an electronic format. Not all books are available this way. E-books from the library are not the same as popular books you'd buy for your personal e-reader device; they often can't be downloaded in full, your period of use may be limited, and there may be restrictions to printing pages.

Encyclopedias are good sources of review articles written for a general audience, and they're a great way to gather background and literature references on a topic that is new to you. Most of our STEM-focused encyclopedias are in print only - meaning that, yes, you have to visit the library to use them. Once you get over the shock of that, they are fairly easy to use. Just consult the Index that occupies the last volume of each set, and be ready to look up synonyms if you don't find the topic listed under your preferred term. 

Handbooks are one-volume compilations of useful tables and text that serve as a shortcut to important factual data and techniques. If you need a literature value or information about an instrument, reagent chemical, indicator, or specific technique, a handbook is a good first place to look.

How do I find books?

Search for books and e-books in our Library Catalog. You can search by keyword, subject heading, author name, or ISBN. The Catalog will tell you if we have a book in the UT Libraries, where it is located, what its current status is, and allow you to request it if it's checked out to someone else. If it's an e-book, you will find a link to it.

When you're looking for e-books, the Library Catalog is the only source of links to e-books that the library makes available.  You might find it via Google or Amazon, but that's not the version we have, in most cases.

Two things that are important to remember:

  • The topics of books are broader than you'll find in journal articles, so when you're searching for them you need to use fewer and more general terms than you would in an article search. For example, you won't find a whole book about chromatographic analysis of BPA. Nor will you find books about most specific chemical compounds, except for the most common ones. But you'll find hundreds of books on various chromatographic techniques that might help your research, and some of them might mention BPA - check the index.
  • When you do a keyword search in a library catalog, you are NOT searching the full text of the book, or its index, or (in most cases) even the table of contents. You are basically finding only words that appear in the book's title and assigned subject headings, which are typically very general.
  • You can find many encyclopedias and handbooks related to analytical chemistry listed on our Analytical Chemistry guide.

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