Your professor may tell you that you’re required to use articles for your research paper. You read articles all the time in magazines—but you know that’s not the sort of article your professor is looking for. So what is a journal article?
Scholarly articles are reports written by professional people who specialize in specific fields, like Caribbean history, British literature, underwater archaeology, and educational psychology.
These reports are often published in hardbound periodical journals, which look much like encyclopedias. You’ll find a section of your library dedicated to journal collections.
How to Find a Journal Article
There is a difference between finding articles that exist and actually putting your hands on an article that you discover through a search. First, you find articles that exist. Then you figure out how to get access to them.
You can find articles that exist by using a search engine. Through a search, you will find names and descriptions of articles out there in the world of academia. There will be special search engines loaded onto your library’s computers that generate article lists, based on your search criteria.
If you are at home, you can use Google Scholar to search. To use Google Scholar, enter your topic and the word “journal” in the search box. (You enter the word journal to avoid getting books.)
Example: Enter “squid beaks” and “journal” in the Google Scholar box and you will generate a list of journal articles that have something to do with squid beaks from:
- Journal of Zoology
- Journal of Field Ornithology
- Antarctic Science
- Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Science
- Marine Mammal Science
Once you have identified articles with a search, you may or may not be able to access the actual text online. If you are in a library, you will have better luck at this: you’ll be able to access articles that you can’t access at home, because libraries have special access that individuals don’t.
To make your life easier, ask a reference librarian for help getting to a full text journal article online. Once you access the article online, print it out and take it home with you. Make sure you note enough information to cite the article.
Finding Articles on the Shelves
If the article is not available online, you may find that is published in a bound journal that is located on the shelves of your library (your library will have a list of journals it holds). When this happens, you simply find the right volume on the shelf and go to the correct page. Most researches like to photocopy the entire article, but you might be happy just taking notes. Be sure to record page numbers and other information you’ll need for citations.
Accessing Articles via Interlibrary Loans
Your library may hold a number of bound journals, but no library contains every journal published. Libraries buy subscriptions to articles that they think their visitors will be most interested in finding.
The good news is that you can request a printed copy of any article through a process called interlibrary loan. If you discover an article that exists only in printed form, but it’s not in your own library, you’re still OK. A library official will help you by contacting another library and ordering a copy. This process takes a week or so, but it is a lifesaver!