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CHEM 3980 Scientific Literature

Here are the basics to researching scientific literature.


There is a whole world of additional science information sources outside of the Mary Livermore Library holdings, and the advent of the World Wide Web has made most of it available from your computer. When you search the web beyond the Livermore Library, you might find:

  • Government organizations like the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Geological Survey, which provide information on news, funding sources, and new research discoveries to the public. These agencies make resources like MEDLINE, PubMed, and PubMed Central available.
  • Portal Sites like or, which collect information for scientists, researchers, and practitioners in the field, forming communities of practice and helping scientists learn about current research and make connections to colleagues across the world.


University web sites that highlight research being performed by professors and graduate students around the world, encouraging scientists to connect with each other and collaborate on new projects, and helping prospective students find programs that meet their needs.

This rich source of information can be an invaluable tool. Unfortunately, for every valuable, reliable resource on the net, there are many sites that contain information that is unreliable, incorrect, or even intentionally misleading.

While traditional publishers of any reputation critically review their products before they reach the public, the ease of publishing on the World Wide Web allows anyone with even rudimentary knowledge to post pages to the Internet without any editorial review.

The most important task of the Internet researcher becomes one of sorting through the irrelevant, unreliable, and misleading material to locate the truly valuable sources located there.However, it is your responsibility to evaluate every resource you find for authority, accuracy, and appropriateness to your project.

The same principles that researchers use to review traditional sources can be used to evaluate material found on the Internet. Consider the following when deciding whether or not to use information found on the Web.

See Finding and Evaluating Information on the World Wide Web for more information.



  • Is it clear who created the page and can you contact them?
  • What are the author's credentials - educational background, past writings, or experience in this area? Is there anything that might lead you to believe that that individual would be an authoritative source on the topic you are researching?
  • What is the purpose of this site? Is there anything to suggest the information found there might not be objective or reliable?
  • Is the author affiliated with , or speaking on behalf of a government agency, an educational institution, or a respected non-profit organization? If so, the information found there might be more reliable than that found in the sites of commercial sites or Internet service providers.


  • Is the author clearly indicated?
  • Is there evidence of quality control? Review the content for obvious errors in spelling, fact or grammar. These suggest the data contained might also be flawed.


  • What is the date of creation or latest revision of the site (if available)? A site that has not been updated recently may have dead links and the information found on the page may also be outdated.


  • Where did the information included in the site come from? Are sources listed? Is there a bibliography included?


  • It is always a good idea to avoid using information found in a web page without checking at least a few of the facts contained there against other sources. Errors in some facts suggest others may be incorrect as well.

Print Equivalents

  • Electronic sources that have print equivalents tend to be the most reliable because they have undergone the same editorial review as their printed counterparts. For example, government publications available on the World Wide Web are generally highly reliable sources.

Evaluation guidelines provided by Dr. Theresa McDevitt