Literature Research Process for Chemistry


The best way to do this assignment is to find the tertiary article FIRST–most good tertiary articles have direct citations right in them.  If you can get to the library, an easy, low tech way to find a tertiary article/report is to go to the periodical shelves on the main floor of the library and browse our current and past issues of Discover , Science News, or  other popular science magazines.  Find a tertiary article on a scientific topic in  magazine.  Look for tertiary articles that refer to a research study or experiment–that’s your primary source!  Use the information below to find a PRIMARY source article on the same topic in one of our article databases.

(note: the following definitions are from the Dartmouth Biomedical Library Website)

  • Primary literature: contains original data and ideas and are generally the first published record of an investigation. Examples include research articles, research monographs, preprints, patents, dissertations, and conference proceedings.  These are usually hard to find on the web using standard search engines.
  • Secondary sources: contain information about primary sources, usually a compilation or synthesis of various ideas and data. Secondary sources may rearrange or modify data and include such sources as indexes to the primary literature, reference works derived from primary research, and reviews. Examples include encyclopedias (inlcuding Wikipedia), review articles (these usually have 50-300 references and are very long, many are government reports), handbooks, bibliographies, and abstracts/indexes.
  • Tertiary sources/reports: discuss science rather than contribute, or they are indirect sources. Examples include textbooks, directories, and literature guides, popular science journals and newspaper articles and reports on sciencein your research assignment this is also discussed as a “report”.


So what is a database?  It’s a searchable collection of  articles.

Libraries subscribe to databases so that students can search for those articles and access them (usually the entire article) for free.

You DON’T have to be in the Library to get to the following resources–you can access them from anywhere on campus or from home.

Here’s what you do:

1. Go to the COCC Barber Library webpage at

2. Click on the articles and more icon–this leads you to a list of our databases.

3. If you are looking for TERTIARY articles/reports, you may well want to use a NEWS, POPULAR MAGAZINE or GENERAL database, such as America’s News  or Newspaper Source

Other databases to try for tertiary articles on chemistry topics include: TopicSearch, Academic OneFile and MasterFile Premier.

See the note at the beginning of this post for the best approach for locating a tertiary article!

4. If you are looking for PRIMARY source articles, you will want to choose a database that focuses on scholarly, research based articles.  Look for the following databases:

Bio-One (offers full text primary source and secondary source articles in the bio sciences)
Academic Search Premier (offers full text primary source and secondary source articles in most academic topics.)
Medline (offers primary source and secondary source articles in medicine.  Some of these are full text).

Other possible databases for chemistry topics are listed at:

When you are looking for PRIMARY sources, you may want to search by author.

  • That’s important, because if your tertiary article refers a particular scientist, author or researcher, you can use the author search to look for their primary research. 
  • Just choose a database and look for the author search choice (you may have to click on advanced search or use a pull down menu for this.)
  •   Type in your author/scientist name (usually last name, then first name).
  •   Then identify your particular scientist and research subject from the results list.  Click on any link that says full text.

5. Yikes!  What if there’s no full text link?  Here’s what you do:

  • Many of our databases let you order an article right there off the results list.   Just look for the order link and fill out the form.  We’ll send you  an e-mail with a link to the article–often as soon as a couple days.
  • Or…go to Google Scholar.  If you have a known author and article title (that you located using a database!)  you can often locate the full text of that article on Google Scholar.  Never purchase a full text article!  Use our interlibrary loan service
    ( instead.


Free Patents
NBCI (link for Biochem)
National Renewable Energy Lab (click on PUBS at bottom for free references)
PNAS (for finding the citation of the article that you want and also for browsing my topic)


The COCC library database list includes quite a few online encyclopedias.  These are a great place to get some basic information on your topic–maybe even identify the key scientists in a field, but they are NOT primary sources!  These articles ARE usually written by qualified, reputable authors and researchers–you can trust the information you locate in an online (or print) encyclopedia as long as it’s relatively current.

Wikepedia is also a good place to get introduced to a topic (including all of it’s attendant opinions and controversies) but is NOT a primary source and is NOT considered authoritative or trustworthy.  Anyone, including your average ten year old, can submit to Wikepedia!

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