Tuesday, April 24, 2012

JSTOR and More

It's still the week before finals, so I figure every little bit helps. The assignment that many of us have due within the next couple weeks is no doubt a research paper. Sure, it's a pain to seek sources (who has time for that?), but I figure I'll try to make it slightly less painless by helping you to find sources with relative ease.

EIU students (and I imagine students at most universities) have access to the wonderful database, JSTOR. For someone like me, JSTOR is a dream come true. Type in what you're looking for and JSTOR will come up with related results much like your average search engine. However, unlike your average search engine, your results are not webpages but scanned and digitized versions of articles from various academic journals. Does your instructor demand peer-reviewed scholarly articles? Look no further. Actually, scratch that. Do look further but further into JSTOR.

Let's say I want to find something about Walt Whitman. In the search field, I'll type "walt whitman" (capitalization be damned in the search bar!). JSTOR promptly brings up results 1-25 of 16012 for "walt whitman." Now let's say my paper's on Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln. There are two ways I can search for articles about the both of them. One way involves simply typing "walt whitman and lincoln." The other way is typing "walt whitman" into the first search bar, and then "lincoln" into the one right below it. There's a drop-down menu right next to it that'll say "AND." It's other options are "OR," "NOT," "NEAR 5," "NEAR 10," and "NEAR 25." This drop-down menu can be useful in that if I wanted to, I could leave out results with "lincoln" by putting it into the second search bar and selecting "NOT." This can be helpful in omitting unwanted information in your later search.

Now enough about searching. Let's look at an article we found. We'll take a look at "Walt Whitman and Lincoln" by Clarence A. Brown, the fifth result of searching for "walt whitman and lincoln." There's a small box just above the first page of the article that has a few different options. One is, "View PDF" which you can use to download the PDF version of the scanned article for later viewing at your leisure. The rest of them, however, all involve citations. The most useful option may be "View Citation." It should be noted that the citation that they give you isn't in a format that I recognize so it may not be a commonly-used citation system:
Walt Whitman and Lincoln
Clarence A. Brown
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) , Vol. 47, No. 2 (Summer, 1954), pp. 176-184
Nevertheless, it gives you all the information you'll need.

Also, if you're in a pinch, some articles have a summary or abstract that you can read. "Walt Whitman and Lincoln" does not, but if you want to find it on an article that you've found on JSTOR, select "Summary" next to "Page Scan" just above the article's image. Aside from an abstract, it will also list all of the footnotes and bibliographic information you'll need.

EBSCO is another invaluable resource with a bit more variety. Often, people will use the Academic Search Complete, which touts itself as "the world's most valuable and comprehensive scholarly, multi-disciplinary full-text database." Regardless of which part of the EBSCO database you use, they'll all have the same interface. Using the MLA International Bibliography, we'll do a similar search as earlier about "walt whitman." Similarly to JSTOR, we have a drop-down menu with options like "AND," "OR," and "NOT." But for now, we'll just stick with a "walt whitman" search.

There is some overlap with articles, but there are also some new results here. We'll look at Jim Garrison's "Walt Whitman, John Dewey, and Primordial Artistic Communication." You'll notice we don't get a scanned copy of the essay right away; instead we get a bunch of information. From here, you can formulate a citation. That being said, there's also an option on the side called "Cite" that will give you citation examples for that particular work in some of the more common citation formats. It is a convenience that JSTOR doesn't provide. 

Not all articles have a PDF copy on EBSCO, but they will almost always have some way for you to find it. Sometimes it might link to another database like Project Muse, or will send you back to your library's website to search for the location of the article on your shelves. Nevertheless, it's an important tool to legitimate research. 

Aside from all of that, all that's left is to curl up next to the fire with a good scholarly journal article.

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