Do I D.O.I or Don’t I?

Ah yes, the elusive ‘D.O.I.’ number. Do you use it? Do you not use it? Does this article even have one? What is a DOI anyway? Sometimes this little number can leave you feeling a bit confused about what to do next…

Confused traffic signal

Photo by caesararum. CC license.


Time to demystify (and hopefully not re-mystify!).

What the heck is it and where does it come from?

First things first, what is a DOI number?

DOI stands for ‘Digital Object Identifier’. In essence, a DOI number is a unique number (it’s actually alphanumeric) assigned at the individual item level.   Since we’re an academic library, we’ll focus the explanation to the context in which you’ll most commonly see DOIs: scholarly journal articles. In this context, DOIs are incredibly useful because they help to unambiguously identify items. Two articles may both have a similar title–“Toward a theory of management”–but will have unique DOIs which make it crystal clear to which article is being referenced.

When you consider the sheer volume of information (digital and otherwise) which exists, it can be hard to find and re-find the same information again and again. When a DOI is assigned to an article, the article now has a unique identifier and a persistent internet address. That means the article is easier to find and its related citation information has a permanent home. Yay! (That’s exciting because then if the journal tanks or changes its name or website, you still have a way to find the necessary citation information without a wild goose chase.)

Of course, the DOI system has not existed for all time. Older articles will likely not have DOIs assigned retroactively, so you should not expect an article to always have a DOI.

Most of the time, publishers assign DOI numbers to scholarly articles at the time of publication.

Should you for some reason desire  more technical information, the International Organization for Standardization developed the system. You can read more here (preferably with a large cup of coffee).

How do I know if the article I’m reading has a DOI? Wait, what if I have a DOI but no citation?! Ahhhh…..


Fear not, there’s one handy tool to help answer all of these questions: CrossRef. As expressed in their mission statement, “Crossref’s specific mandate is to be the citation linking backbone for all scholarly information in electronic form.” They are a non-profit community trying to create a space which helps expedite the research process by making it easier to look up/confirm/etc. information.  You can think of them as a space that does not store full-text papers, but that stores all of the metadata about those papers. While they technically do not have everything, their database does included some 76 million records, making it a great tool for any researcher.

So let’s say you read an article and are going to cite it (APA Style) in a paper.  If it has a DOI, APA wants you to include it in your citation. What if you are unsure?  Head on over to Copy and paste the full article title (or author, or full citation) into the search box like so:

Screenshot of crossref search.

Click image to enlarge.


The results page will show you matches ranked by relevance.  This search found a match and displayed the DOI number.  Notice that you can also click on the ‘actions’ link if you want to generate a citation for the work:

Crossref results page.

Click image to enlarge.

Of course, this system works in reverse as well.  What if someone provided you a short-hand list of references which is really just a list of DOIs? Grumble a little, then plug the DOIs into Crossref to find the full citation information:

Crossref DOI search.

Click image to enlarge.


And Voila:

Crossref DOI search result.

Click image to enlarge.

APA Style….

Yes, yes, the APA manual advises that you include DOI numbers (in the form of a web address) whenever they exist. While this can feel tedious, there are tools to help! In addition to CrossRef, the APA Style Blog created a great post explaining how and when to include DOIs in your citations:  At the bottom of the post, you will find links out to some additional information about DOIs.

And that concludes this introduction to DOIs. Feel free to contact the library with any questions.  Happy searching (and finding)!

ProQuest Power Search

Happy New Year blog readers!  After the holiday break and a busy Winter Session we are ready to get back down to business with some more tips.

What’s on this week’s agenda?  Cross-searching ProQuest!

Now calm down, contain your excitement. Let’s talk about what this means exactly.

As you may have discovered, sometimes searching Fielding’s FASTsearch returns too many results.  But sometimes searching just one subject-specific database does not allow you to see how your topic is treated within other disciplines. What to do, what to do…?

One great option is to search several ProQuest databases at once (a.k.a. “cross-searching”).  This method allows you to hand-pick several (or more) databases covering subject areas relevant to your research.

How It Works

To get started, follow the ‘databases’ link on the library website and select any ProQuest database. Once you’ve connected look in the top, left-hand corner of the screen for a link labeled ‘Change Databases’:

On the next screen you will find a list of all of the ProQuest databases to which Fielding subscribes.  Now, you can read through the descriptions and select any you would like to add to your search. Once you’ve made all of your selections, just click on the ‘Use selected databases’ button:

If you want to confirm that the process was successful, take a look at the number in parentheses (after the word databases) in the top, left corner of the new screen. This number should correspond to however many databases you selected:

And voila! Now when you run a search you will be searching all of these resources at once! Wasn’t that easy?

But….Why Exactly?

This method will let you expand your search to relevant subject areas without going quite as broad as FASTsearch. For students whose research covers multiple disciplines and subject areas, such as education topics, it can be beneficial to cast a wider net.

As always, feel free to contact the library any time with questions.

Happy Searching!

Annual Reviews: Keeping current with timely, critical research reviews

We live in an exciting time with access to TONS of information about anything and everything…hence the popular phrase: ‘information overload’. Case in point, there seems to be some irony in this Google search:

Google search for 'information overload'

Search results retrieved 10/14/15.


Of course there are some, such as Clay Shirky, who argue that the problem is not necessarily information overload, but rather “filter failure” (he made this point during his keynote address at the Web 2.0 Expo back in 2008).  Since the cost of publishing and producing content is so low nowadays, there is no check on the content’s quality.  Hence, tons of information is ‘out there’, but we don’t always have the best tools and systems to filter through it and know where to devote our energy.

Unsurprisingly, people who are able to access subscription resources (like library databases) have a leg up in that they at least can access a collection of peer-reviewed materials, vetted by a specific process, and as such deemed more credible in the academic world. But even then, there is so much content to sift through!

How do you know the primary contributors to your field of study? What are the recent research trends?

One useful resource in Fielding’s library to help answer some of these questions is a collection of journals called ‘Annual Reviews‘.  As they explain on their ‘overview’ page, Annual Reviews “critically reviews the most significant primary research literature to guide researchers to the principal contributions of their field and help them keep up to date in their area of research.” Reviews in each subject area are-yes, you guessed it-published annually.

While Fielding’s subscription does not include all subjects covered by Annual Reviews, it does encompass the major subject areas most pertinent to our programs of study.  These include:

  • Anthropology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Environment and Resources
  • Law and Social Science
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Public Health
  • Sociology

So how can you access and take advantage of these little gems?

Easy! Simply follow the ‘databases’ link on the main library website and select ‘Annual Reviews’ from the alphabetical list:



Once connected, navigate to the ‘browse journals’ section in the center of the page.  Any journal identified with a green check mark is available to you–just click on the title to connect to its content:


After you select a journal you can take advantage of many features.  Of course, you can view the content of the latest issue (or select to view past issues) and connect to full-text.  You can also use some handy tools such as the ‘most cited reviews’ or ‘featured reviews’ to discover some of the publication’s most popular content.


When viewing the full-text HTML version of an article (when available) you can access additional features such as viewing figures, related reviews, and more.

Annual Reviews, as most journals and databases, also allows you to sign up to receive alerts when new articles or tables of contents are published.

Want to learn more?  Check out the Annual Reviews Tutorials page to access video, PDF, and PowerPoint tutorials on navigating this collection.

Whether you want to keep informed of the latest research in your field, or gain some background information in a certain discipline, be sure to add Annual Reviews to your list of resources to consult. They have done much of the work of filtering through the loads of information related to a particular subject, allowing you to focus on the highlights, major discoveries, and trends.

Happy Searching!

What is LexisNexis all about anyway?

You blog readers may recall that we did a post a few months back about locating newspaper content (click here for a refresher) in LexisNexis and other resources.  However, it occurred to your friendly Fielding librarian that perhaps you may be curious to know what else LexisNexis can do.

Aside from its catchy, rhyming name, LexisNexis will appeal to researchers looking for newspaper articles, legal information such as federal and state cases, and business information like company profiles, dossiers and more.

While this database is chock-full of useful information, it can feel a little confusing to navigate at first. Fear not!  Your librarians will shush your fears and show you some navigation basics, not to mention offer links out to additional help resources.

librarian shushing monster

Image by Michael Sauers. CC license here.

Navigating 101: Search by Content Type

Once you’ve deftly connected to LexisNexis via the ‘databases’ link on the library website, one of the most helpful things you can do is use the ‘search by content type’ feature.  As you may have guessed, this feature will allow you to limit your searches to specific content such as newspaper articles or legal statutes, helping you narrow in on relevant content more quickly.


Step one is simply to click on the text above the search box which reads ‘search by content type’.  This will reveal a drop-down menu from which you can make a selection:



And voila! Once you click on a link, your content type has been selected.  How do you know it worked?  On the main search page the text above the search box will change to match the content type you selected:


Navigating 101: Advanced Search Options

Once you’ve selected a content type, you can proceed in a few ways.  In some cases, you may want to immediately input some keywords and look at the results.  In that case, it’s as easy as plugging your search terms into the search box.

On other occasions, particularly if you are looking for very specific legal information, you may still want to make further refinements. If ever you want to make more refinements, or just see what other refinements are available to you, select the ‘advanced options’ text just below the search box.

(**Note: Some of the advanced options available to you change depending on the type of content you selected.  You may see one set of options available for legal research, another set available for company profiles, etc.)



Regardless of the content type you have chosen, you will always see the ‘Date’ and ‘Build your own segment search’ options available.  While ‘date’ is self-explanatory, the ‘build your own’ portion of the screen seems a bit more daunting.  This really moves beyond a ‘basics of navigating’ post, so I will offer a brief explanation below (skip it if it’s too much detail!).

(In the simplest terms, the ‘build your own’ option allows you to specify a portion of the document to search within.  For example, you may choose ‘Headline’ and then enter a keyword you want to find in the news articles’ headline. It also allows you to use Boolean operators to search for content in multiple sections of the document.  LexisNexis’ into video tutorial touches on this briefly, see here for more detail. )

In the example above, since I have chosen ‘federal statues and regulations’, the additional option I have is to choose the source I would like to search.  For now, I have selected only to search ‘Public Laws’.  Make sure to press the ‘Apply’ button so your changes take effect!

Navigating 101: Enter terms and press ‘search’/reading the results page

The final step is simply to enter in my search terms.  Now that I’ve narrowed in on the content type and source I’m interested in, I can focus on entering keywords related to my research topic, like so:


For those new to LexisNexis, the results page can seem a little…strange. While the results are listed in the center, there is not a ton of information revealed about each result initially.  However, you have some refinement options and other features to help.

The filters along the left side of the page and the ‘search within’ feature along the top of the page will allow you to narrow in on relevant items.  Likewise, you can use the drop-down menu labeled ‘Show’ to alter how much detail you see in each result; even though it defaults to ‘list’, you may want to change it to ‘expanded list’ to see more:


Click image to enlarge.

From here, as you know so well, the work becomes looking through the results and determining which will be useful in your research.

WHEW! There is always a lot to cover when considering a new database.  Check out some of LexisNexis’ help materials below to learn more:

Though it goes without saying, you can always contact a librarian for assistance.  Happy searching!

Free Samples!

Free hugs

Image by Matthew G. CC license here.

Okay, you caught me…the library is not giving out free hugs (although after how busy Summer Session was perhaps it’s not a bad idea).

This ‘free samples’ post actually refers to finding sample survey instruments, interview questions, questionnaires, and so on.  A post we did not too long ago, Test It Out, covered some of the key steps in finding studies which employed certain tests or measures (hooray!).  But today’s post focuses on a way to find actual survey and interview questions…which can be a bit tricky.

As you probably know, scholarly articles do not typically publish appendices revealing the survey/interview questions used in obtaining results.  So what do you do when your advisor directs you to “find some sample questions” other academics have used?

Laptop on fire

Image by Chris Pawluk. CC license here.

First, you resist the urge to set fire to your laptop.  Second, you cruise on over to the Fielding library website and connect to the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database (by following the ‘databases’ link on the main library website).

While most scholarly articles do not include the full-text of their survey instruments, dissertations and theses do!  That’s right, as you are well aware, graduate and doctoral students must meticulously account for how and why they achieved the results of their studies. Lucky for you, this means the appendices of these documents are a gold-mine of sample measures.  Let’s head on over to the database to take a look at how this works.

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global

When you connect to the database, you will land on the familiar blank advanced search screen.  If you’ve connected to this database with the intention of finding sample questions–or just sample studies which employ a certain method (i.e. phenomenology, case study, etc.)–the best way to accomplish this goal is to search using a term or two describing your topic and a term describing the type of measure/study you hope to find.

Let’s imagine I’m doing some research into organizational cultures and need to find some sample interview questions.  I may build my search like so:


Click image to enlarge.


Though quite basic, I’ve asked the database to look for the phrase “organizational culture” and the keyword ‘interviews’ anywhere except for in the full-text of the document.  Since the dissertation’s abstract will include a piece about the methodology used, this is a fairly reliable method to employ to find the samples you need.  Here are the first few results this search retrieved (**note, I blacked out the author/institution names since I could not ask for permission to display them):

sample results page

Click image to enlarge.


As you can see underlined in red, each of these works’ abstracts has a portion which explains interviews were used (at least in some capacity) to obtain some data.  From here, I could preview abstracts, select a relevant document, then open the PDF to view the appendix which would contain a copy of the questions employed.

Your particular research topic is likely more specific that just ‘organizational culture’ so remember you can use multiple terms to refine your search.  Let’s do one slightly more refined sample search together for good ‘measure’ (pun intended).

In this case, let’s imagine my research focuses on the use of social media by teenagers and I plan to conduct a case study. I might build my search like so:

screenshot of case study search

Click image to enlarge

Not sure about all that fancy syntax?  Make sure to check out the search tip handout on the ‘Quick Tip Docs’ page for explanations.

In essence, that search asks the database to find the phrase “social media”, to find any one of those terms describing teens or youth or adolescent, and to find the phrase “case study”.  This yielded 17 results total, here’s a sampling:

sample of results page

Click image to enlarge.


And there you have it.  Just another trick to have up your sleeve as you work on your own research.  Hopefully this means that next time you’re asked to find some samples you’ll react like this…

man crossing finish line

Image by meridican. CC license here.

Happy searching!  And remember you can always contact the library with questions (

Subject Headings & Thesauri (a.k.a. let’s demystify some jargon!)

This week’s post offers us a glimpse into some of the rather confusing jargon of library research: subject headings, keywords, and database thesauri. While these terms sound rather boring and unhelpful, they actually refer to several strategies which can significantly assist you in the research process.

Let’s be honest: you probably never, or hardly ever, even think about ‘subject headings’ (or ‘subject terms’ as they are also called). Why would you? You likely wouldn’t even think to search this way unless you noticed the option when selecting a search field:

search fields

The difference between searching by subject and searching by keyword is all in the name.

  • When you use a keyword, you are searching for words in the work’s title, abstract, etc.
  • When you use a subject heading, you are searching for the subject of the work, regardless of the keywords used to describe it.

Imagine it this way. Let’s say you are doing some research related to supervisors in the workplace. There are a number of keywords which might describe someone in this position: supervisor, manager, boss, leader, and so on.  However, in a database, all of these keywords will be categorized under a single subject heading, such as ‘manager’.

Here’s a one-minute animation describing this difference for all of the visual learners (and cartoon watchers) out there:

OK librarian, why bother?  Well, subject headings are a wonderful tool to use during initial research. If you are having trouble thinking of synonyms, or you just want to be sure to catch every document within a certain category, searching for its subject term will help you do that.  Likewise, there are subject terms which can help you find certain types of documents such as case studies or reviews. And, since subject headings refer to the ‘aboutness’ of an article, they typically return highly relevant results.

OK librarian, how am I supposed to think of subject terms?  That is nearly impossible. Seriously, some subject headings use quite unnatural language or appear bizarrely complicated (depending on who created them).  This is where the database thesaurus swoops in to the rescue!


Image by Lights Camera Click. CC license here.

Dinosaur humor aside, a database thesaurus is designed to help you discover subject terms related to your topic. Many database vendors, such as ProQuest and EBSCO, offer links to a thesaurus on their advanced search page.  Once there, you can search for a term in order to figure out its preferred subject heading.

Here’s an example. I opened a thesaurus in ProQuest and searched for ‘case study’. The thesaurus returned a result for ‘case studies’ which included a note stating: “used to identify articles that focus in-depth on a single company or organization’:



When I use ‘case studies’ as a subject term, this will ensure that all of my results have been officially indexed as case studies by the database creators.  Now, I can combine this subject term with a keyword or two related to my topic:



On the results page, instead of having to sift through each document to determine whether or not it is a case study, I already know that I am only viewing documents officially indexed as such.

As mentioned, this thesaurus strategy works great both for discovering terms related to your subject and for specifying certain types of documents.

Remember, you can also discover subject terms after conducting a keyword search. Imagine you did a keyword search on employee feedback and found a great article. You can click on its ‘citation/abstract’ to view which subject terms were used to describe it.  This way, you can consider adding one or more of these terms to future searches:



Want to see a video example of how keywords and subject terms alter the results you will find? Check out our thesaurus video here, or find it by following the ‘quick tip videos’ tab at the top of the screen.

As ever, happy searching!

Cited Reference Searching (Or, The Savvy Researcher’s Strategy)

As your scholarly research becomes more narrowly focused, you will no doubt begin to have more and more trouble finding articles related to your topic. While this is wonderful in that it means you are conducting unique research (Yay!), it is not so wonderful in that it can be difficult to find the requisite sources to complete your lit review (Boo!).  So, where do you go from here?


Image by Lori Greig. CC license here.

One wonderful strategy for tackling this problem (or any research, really) is ‘cited reference searching’.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, it simply means looking at which authors/publications have cited an article related to your field of study. Following citation chains helps you track the scholarly conversation while at the same time freeing you of the need to think of the exact search terms which might elicit such results.

The Fielding Library has a number of resources which can assist you with this type of searching: Google Scholar, Social Sciences Citation Index, and many of the individual databases (such as those made by ProQuest).

Social Sciences Citation Index is a database dedicated exclusively to this type of research. It’s worth becoming familiar with, but requires a bit more depth than a handy blog post can supply. Check out the Fielding Cited Reference Searching LibGuide to learn all about it, Google Scholar, and PsycINFO!

Let’s take a look at a simpler example using Google Scholar.

Imagine you are deep into your research on adolescent involvement in community organizations, but you’re having trouble discovering additional articles. You do have a citation for a wonderful article published in 2008…so why not see who has cited it since?

You head over to Google Scholar, being sure to connect via the library so you can see what results we have in our collection. When you land on the search page, simply copy and paste the full article title in the search box and press search:


Below the article title/description, you will see a convenient little ‘cited by’ link (if the article has been cited). Simply clicking on this link will then display the list of citing articles. Even better, while viewing the citing articles, you can select to ‘search within’ them to find those most related to your topic:


‘Search within’ is a wonderful tool, particularly when you are viewing lists of dozens or even hundreds of citing articles.

As a quick recap, one of the greatest benefits of cited reference searching is that it frees you from the difficult task of predicting which search terms will find the best results. For example, an article came up in my Google Scholar results list about ‘neighborhoods and HIV’. While this certainly sounds related to community organizing, it may not have come up in a keyword search if it those exact words (‘community’ and ‘organizing’) were not used in its abstract.

A final word to the wise: citation numbers are only numbers without context. An article could have been cited 97 times because it provides wonderful contributions to the field, or because 97 other authors wholly disagreed with its content. Context is key with citation numbers!

Happy Searching!

Research about…research?

At the graduate school level, your life is pretty much all about research.  Which begs the question….how do you do research about research?

Most people don’t enter school simply knowing how to do ethnographic studies, conduct action research, or compute chi-squared analyses.

Math Class

Image by Lauren. CC license here.


Lucky for us, the library has access to SAGE Research Methods Online.  This one-of-a-kind, completely full-text database is dedicated solely to information about conducting research.  Content is available in a number of formats: full e-books, journal articles, encyclopedia entries, even videos.

Whether you are doing a literature review, planning a qualitative study, analyzing data, or writing it all up as a dissertation, you’ll find something of interest.

SAGE Research Methods offers a number of great ways to discover content.  Of particular note is the ‘Methods Map’.  Best thought of as a visual, hierarchical search tool, the Methods Map allows you to perceive relationships between various research methods.

When you first use the Methods Map, you will see the broadest possible term (“research methods”) in the center:


From here, you can use the options on the right side of the screen to delve deeper into the content.  For example, you could then select ‘qualitative research’ from the list.  Each time you make a selection, the map will shift to reflect which method you are currently viewing and to revel new sub-terms:



When you land on a topic you would like to learn more about, simply click on the ‘Show content’ button below the method’s name to view the relevant books, journals, and more:



The methods map will be retained at the top of the screen (in case you want to use it more!), while the related content will be displayed below:



In addition to using the map, you can browse methods and conduct keyword searches for content.  To learn all about how to get started with this great resource, you may want to view Fielding Library’s tutorial video (best viewed full screen):


If you want more in-depth help, check out SAGE’s LibGuide in the ‘database searching’ section of the More Resource page.

Happy Searching!


Image by meghan d. CC license here.



Read All About It! Newspapers & the Library

We here in the library (this may not surprise you) are constantly learning new things. With 80+ databases and thousands upon thousands of available resources, it goes without saying that we regularly learn a new tip or trick.  This morning, as I was trying and not so successfully assisting someone with a question, I learned something new about the LexisNexis database which I just have to pass along.

For those who don’t know, LexisNexis Academic is a wonderful database for anyone looking for news, legal, and business research resources.  The downside?  Searching ‘the news’ undoubtedly leads to an overwhelming number of results which can feel impossible to sort through.

What I already knew this morning was that you can search LexisNexis by official news source–they index the content of some 350 major news sources.  What I learned?  You can do a publication search to find additional freelance articles from news sources not officially included in the index.  Let’s take a gander…

Searching by official source

Looking for a specific news outlet is quite easy in LexisNexis. Simply click on the arrow next to advanced options, then, in the search bar labeled ‘Source’ type in the name of the newspaper:


Once you select your news source and press ‘apply’, you are then searching only the content of that specific work.  Of course, you can use additional advanced options to limit your search to a specific date range too.


Sources not ‘officially’ included

So what happens when you type in the name of a source which is not officially indexed in LexisNexis?



When this happens, not all hope is lost.  There are ways to find some content from this source in LexisNexis, as well as other tools out on the web to help make up the difference.

If you’re interested in a source not officially indexed in LexisNexis, you can still do what’s known as a ‘publication’ search to find some of the source’s content.  Important caveat: this would not be considered an exhaustive search of this source because not all of its content is available.  However, this is a way to access freelance articles and those indexed from other sources.

How do you accomplish this?  It looks a little strange.  You will type the word ‘publication’ in all capital letters and follow this by the name of the news source in parentheses in the search bar:  PUBLICATION(Columbia Daily Tribune).  Then, you can use the word AND to add in whatever keywords you’re looking for within this publication.  Here’s how it might look:



Now, let’s take a look at the results page so you can see what I mean about this not being an ‘official’ LexisNexis source:


Click image to enlarge

First, hooray! We can see that the results in the list were published in the Columbia Daily Tribune. But…on the left side of the screen…why does it list the source as ‘McClatchy Tribune non-restricted’?  Well, because that’s the official source.  This seemingly strange ‘McClatchy Tribune’ is a larger news source which offers access to some freelance articles from several hundred North American newspapers.  Some of those articles happen to appear in The Columbia Daily Tribune.

As you can see, I am still able to find some content from the news source I’m interested in, but it is by no means as exhaustive of a search as it could be were the full content of the newspaper indexed.  So, what can we do to supplement these results?

Other Newspaper Options

One thing you can always do is go directly to the source; most newspapers have a link to a searchable archive of content. Some publishers allow free access to their electronic content while others require a subscription; but it never hurts to try! A newspaper’s searchable archive will typically allow you to input a date range and a number of keywords, similar to the capabilities in LexisNexis:



And, there is always Google’s searchable newspaper archive.  The titles here are hit and miss, but the benefit is that much of the archived content is from extremely old publications (often back into the 1800s if not earlier).  This is a great way to find primary sources from a number of newspapers and time periods. While the archive does not include copies of the Columbia Daily Tribune, check out this sample of titles and publication dates:



Feeling skeptical about the quality of these reproductions?  The zoom in and out functionality on the older publications is surprisingly good, making it easier than you might expect to peruse the content. Click the image below to see it full-sized:


Click image to enlarge


Hopefully these suggestions will get you off on the right foot when it comes to tracking down newspaper content. If you have questions about using LexisNexis, I would highly recommend taking a look at the LexisNexis Academic Wiki. The ‘How To’ pages offer simple instructions and screenshots on how to accomplish a number of tasks.

And, as always, you are welcome to contact the library for help!

Not Always Black & White

We here in the library are often asked some version of this question: “How do I know I’ve done an exhaustive literature search?”

This always feels like a bit of a conundrum: how do you know what you don’t know?

perplexed luke - colour stylee - vancouver-epl1-17.5mm-f095-nokton-20131129-PB298374.jpg

Photo by Roland Tanglao. CC license here.

One tip for conducting a thorough search is to look at the ‘gray literature’ on your topic.  What exactly is gray literature you ask?  Typically, it’s literature which falls outside the realm of traditional/commercial publishing channels.  (Disclaimer: you will see this concept spelled both ‘gray’ and ‘grey’. Fear not, both are acceptable!).

As GreyNet defines it, this literature consists of: “…multiple document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business, and organization in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing, i.e. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.”

This includes, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Conference proceedings & papers
  • Government documents
  • Reports of all sorts
  • Informal communication (blogs, emails, tweets, phone calls, etc.)
  • Clinical trials
  • And more!

In other words, gray literature consists of many of the works which have not necessarily gone through the formal publishing cycle, but which can still provide valuable information and perspectives on your research.

So, if this gray literature is not available via commercial publishers, how do you find it?

Magnified (8/365)

Photo by Jake Bouma. CC license here.

Great question! By definition, it is more difficult to locate than scholarly articles and books; however, there are some great resources out there to help you in this process.  Some of these resources are available within Fielding’s library, while others are available to you on the open web.

Here’s a sampling:

  • PapersFirst & ProceedingsFirst: These two databases are accessible within Fielding’s library (just follow the ‘databases’ link on the homepage and you will find them in the alphabetical list).  While the databases do not always link to full-text, they are an excellent discovery resource to help you find those conference papers and proceedings related to your topic.
  • GreySource Index: “provides examples of grey literature to the average net-user and in so doing profiles organizations responsible for its production and/or processing. GreySource identifies the hyperlink directly embedded in a resource, thus allowing immediate and virtual exposure to grey literature.” (from GreySource page)
  • National Technical Information Center ( as the largest central resource for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business related information available today. For more than 60 years NTIS has assured businesses, universities, and the public timely access to approximately 3 million publications covering over 350 subject areas.

To discover more gray lit resources, check out the gray lit page of Fielding’s Literature Review LibGuide here.

Lastly, is this literature reliable?  Since it has not gone through the more rigorous academic publishing process, gray literature often has not been peer-reviewed. This does not make it less valuable, but it certainly requires that you pay close attention to your sources and check their credibility when necessary.  On this point, and on citing this type of research, you may find this blog post about gray lit on the APA style blog helpful.

As always, good luck with your research!