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PHYS 2500 and 3870/3880: Information Resources In Physics

Information Resources for Physics 2500 & 3870/3889 [PHYS|2500/3870/3880]

The Basics

Part of your work in this class will require you to search the physics literature to identify journal articles that support work you are doing in your labs or other assignments.  The "Databases" tab lists good sites for you to use to find journal articles.  The "Journals" tab lists information about journals in the Merrill-Cazier Library.  

You will be expected to read and cite peer reviewed articles.  The authors of these articles submitted their work to be read and critiqued by other experts in the field prior to being accepted for publication in a journal.  This is done to insure the published work is reliable and sound.

Sometimes it is not easy to tell if a journal publishes peer-reviewed articles. You can use the table below to help determine if the article is from a peer-reviewed journal. Alternatively, you can always contact your friendly librarian (email the article or citation to the address in this guide) and they can usually tell you very quickly if it is a peer review journal.

One common measure of the reputation and utility of various peer reviewed journals is the impact factor.  This is based on the average number of times articles from a given journal are cited by other authors.  

Popular vs. Scholarly

The following table describes popular and scholarly articles and those in between. It might be more helpful to think of resources as a spectrum rather than two diametrically opposed categories into which all sources must fit.  Choose articles that are appropriate for your subject and the kind of research you are doing.  Sometimes this means you will use popular articles, sometimes scholarly, and sometimes a mix.  Check with your teacher if you are not sure if something is appropriate for your assignment.

Popular vs. Scholarly chart:

thumbnail image of scholarly vs popular chart

More on the Quality of Research


Information can be easily found in more places now, including a search on the internet.  The trick is to make sure you find good quality information! 

If research it comes from a trusted source, such as a peer-reviewed journal, we generally can assume someone has done work to vet papers for quality.  But there are other places research articles and information can be found, such as discipline-specific and institutional repositories, and journals and magazines that are not peer-reviewed. 

We always need to be critical readers, looking closely at information - including that found in research articles - and asking questions, and checking with other sources of information in deciding the quality of the research.  

Here are a few things you can do to look for indicators of quality:

  • - read an article critically, both for content (look at methods and analysis, conclusions, assumptions), and for its usefulness for your purpose
  • - find a discussion of your article in another research article (see if someone has cited it and what is said in that citing article)
  • - find out about the place an article is housed (e.g. a journal, a repository, a web page); what are the policies for acceptance for placement; is it housed in or supported by a reputable place such as a university?
  • - find a discussion of your topic or your study in a professionally oriented news source (such as some of the magazines you are looking at in this assignment) - what are they saying about this topic or this study?
  • - find information that talks about the topic you are researching such as encyclopedia articles or book from a reputable publisher - what are they saying about what we know of the topic?  do they present conflicting information to what is in your article?
  • - if a research study is news-worthy, you might find it reported in news sources, which may report implications of the discovery as well as any controversy or questions about the research

If you aren't sure about the quality and/or appropriateness of an article or some other information, use the expertise of your instructor or a librarian to help you make an assessment!