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ENGL 202A: Writing in the Social Sciences

A guide to resources for ENGL 202A

Scholarly Literature

What is scholarly literature?  

Typically when you hear people use the phrase "scholarly literature" they are talking about scholarly journal articles.  The problem with this idea is that scholarly literature is not published strictly in journal articles. In fact, there is considerable scholarly literature published in book format.  Consequently, many consider the use of the phrase "scholarly literature" to include publications in all formats.

However, you have been asked to find scholarly journal articles so this guide is designed to help you find that type of scholarly material.

How to Read a Scholarly Article

By now you have probably read many scholarly articles.  However, this three page summary by Frederique Laubepin will be worth your time and effort to read.  It is concise with some excellent insight.

How to Read (and Understand) a Social Science Journal Article (only 3 pages).  By Frederique Laubepin Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, 2013.

Google & Google Scholar

A fisherman with pole inside a circle representing Google Scholar, which is inside a circle representing all of google. And the caption "Fishing in a smaller pond"What are these search engines searching? 

Very simply put, these two engines are created by computer programs that send out robots that scrape information from websites that allow them to collect information.  The robots bring the information back to Google and dump this information into a central repository. 

Google Scholar differs from Google, because the robots only scrape and report information from “scholarly sites” such as academic institutions, scholarly associations, and publishers.   Thus, creating a different and smaller pool of information.

Let’s go ahead and do a quick search in   and see how this plays out.

Why is it important for you to understand how Google and Google Scholar are created?

  • Google can only scrape information from websites that allow it access
  • Information is organized by an automated computer algorithm which significantly affect the types of searches you can do and the results you get.
  • They are only one of many tools at your disposal 

Tutorial (click link for tutorial): Connecting Google Scholar to your Library Account: A Tangent.  

You may notice when you click on a title in your results list that the site may ask you to pay to access this information. As a member of Penn State, you should never pay for a resource using Google Scholar. The following video shows you how to select and save your settings in your browser.  

Go ahead and open up  and follow along.  

Library Databases

What is a library database?

The Library uses the term ‘database’ to describe a searchable online resource. Usually, the Library pays for access, however, some databases are free to use.

Why would you want to search a library database?

  • Comprehensiveness: many library databases do not allow Google or other search engines to scrape information off of their site.  In sum, this would be fiscal suicide.  You should simply see Google as one place among many to search.
  • Efficiency: the smaller more focused universe of information allows the searcher to focus their search in a core set of publications of a particular discipline or a specific format of information.
  • Value-added connections: databases provide more ways through tagging for a searcher to make connections between information to enhance their searching techniques.  

Finding Library Databases

It is impossible to list all of the potentially relevant databases for many of the interdisciplinary topics.  Below are two suggestions:  

1) Use the Library Subject Guides

A simple way is to explore other relevant library subject guides that have been created by disciplinary experts.   

2) Using a mult-subject library databases to identify library subject databases.  

Use the multi-disciplinary subject indexes Academic Search Complete and Proquest Multiple Databases to identify other relevant subject indexes by doing a keyword search and discover which subject databases have more results.

Both of these publishers provide access to a suite of over 80 disciplinary subject indexes as well as a number of collection databases listed in the University Libraries databases.

Finding by Citedness

Look at the References!

If you discover a relevant scholarly article on topic it is essential to take a look at the references.  Often this will lead you to other important articles that can potentially be of equal or more importance that then the article in-hand.

Why is that?  Scholarly articles have a built in process called the literature review.  Literature reviews provide you with a summary of research on the topic and the context for a particular author(s) own research.  

Find who Cites our Author(s) Article  

Below is an example of a citation map from the Social Science Citation Index of demographers Jennifer Van Hook and Jennifer Glick's 2007 article "Immigration and living arrangements: Moving beyond economic need versus acculturation" in the journal Demography 44(2): 225-249.  It visually shows you the publications that were cited in the article as well as 43 other publication that cited them.  

core citation in the middle with fan like links to other documents, one set to the articles the original article cited, and the other set to articles that cite the original articles

So how do we find this future literature?  

Most database have some type of limited "cited by" feature.  However, the most important database that scholars use for this type of search are Web of Science and its suite of citation indexes.