Academic or "scholarly, peer reviewed" articles are written by and further the research of faculty members or scholars, who come from all disciplines and fields. Regardless of the field, academic literature is supported by in depth research, looking at available evidence. That evidence can be textual as in literature, archival and object based as in history and archaeology, observable, or numerical.
Penn Libraries subscribes to hundreds of databases, which provide access to scholarly articles or to information about those articles. You will engage in different kinds of searches, depending on your research. Often that might include known-item searching (e.g., citation chasing) or database searching with keywords. Commonly, you will use two categories of databases: multi-disciplinary (that cover many disciplines) and discipline-specific (those that focus on one or a small number of closely related fields).
Known-item searching is working with a specific source -- you have a title and author. When you have this "known item," you may want "chase it." Citation chasing can go in two directions -- backwards and forwards. If you have found an article or similar work that is important to your paper you may want to follow up on the scholarship relied on by your author --- this is chasing backwards -- looking at the foundation of the scholarship you are reading. You can also "chase" forward by seeing who has cited your author. This may show you how the research has moved along. Articles+ and Google Scholar are good resources for citation chasing because they have broad disciplinary coverage.
When to use: When you have found a reference in one of your readings or discussions to an article that sounds as if it might be helpful, you can find out whether others have cited this article using the known item search strategy in Google Scholar. Simply put the title in quotation marks--”Scenarios for Demand Growth of Metals in Electricity Generation,” for example--and Google will show you a “cited by” figure. Clicking on that number will show you all the scholarly articles that cite your author’s article.
Most academic literature undergoes peer review, which means that peer scholars from the same or closely related disciplines review submitted papers before they are approved for publication. These publications, and their network of citations and research make up a form of conversation among scholars.
Some tips for recognizing academic literature (as opposed to news stories, op-eds, working papers, and grey literature):
Grey Literature: Grey literature may not have a specific author and is usually distributed by the organization or entity, which may or may not be a not-for-profit. The organization will have a mission and you can get a feel for their perspective if you read through the mission or "about" pages. Academic literature will always be distributed by a commercial or university press publisher. Much of this literature is made available on the organizations website. See the next tab for more on grey literature.
Multi-Disciplinary Databases have broad coverage across subject areas and fields of study. These multi-subject databases may include articles from STEM, humanities, and social science fields. Some Examples include:
When to use: If you find that your results from citation hunting are too narrow, try do the same search in a multi-disciplinary database. This can help you discover new vocabulary and angles on your topic.
You can think of your prospective major as a discipline. A discipline specific database could be devoted to sociology (Sociological Abstracts) or psychology (Psycinfo), history (America: History and Life) or literature (MLA International Bibliography). Talk with your professor or librarian to learn more about databases representing specific fields of study. You can also search through the Penn Libraries' database index.
When to use: One approach is to begin your search in the more specific database and then move to the multi-disciplinary database to compare your results with similar publications from the viewpoint of scholars working in different disciplines.