Literature review

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PH700 Literature reviews Professor Michael Smith

This guide provides basic tips on making literature reviews in physics and astronomy. Links to key databases are provided.
In general, how to do a literature search:

A Guide on finding physics/astronomy papers, how to read papers, how to reference (BibTex, EndNote) – writing hints:


  • Standard search terms include

  • Title

  • Author

  • Abstract

  • Keywords

  • Every search engine will have different syntax

  • Use Boolean operators (AND, OR etc)

  • Don’t read through every paper you come across - it takes too long!

  • Instead scan through papers quickly, then identify essential reading

  • Keep a bibliographic record of every paper, book or website you use (either using paper or bibliographic software)


The following guide excerpts were pirated from:

Major Databases in Physics & Astronomy

Electronic databases provide access to the contents of a wide range of medical journals and other types of information such as conference papers and book chapters.

These databases offer a quick and effective way of searching for references to journal articles, a far less cumbersome process than scanning through individual journals.

Some databases only provide brief details of the reference such as the author, title and journal details: title, volume and page numbers.

Others give you a summary or abstract of the article which helps you decide whether it is relevant to your subject.

In deciding which database to use you need to look at the subject areas that they cover. Some cover a wide area of the literature relevant to physics and astronomy, others have a narrower remit. None of them will necessarily cover all the journals where you may find relevant articles so you should consider using more than one.

1 The NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS)

The Astrophysics Data System (ADS) is a NASA-funded project whose main resource is an Abstract Service, which includes four sets of abstracts: 1) astronomy and astrophysics, 2) instrumentation, 3) physics and geophysics, and 4) Los Alamos preprint server,. Each dataset can be searched by author, object name (astronomy only), title, or abstract text words.

The data system contains 626,460 abstracts from astronomical articles, 590,197 abstracts from space instrumentation and engineering articles, 936,261 abstracts from physics and geophysics articles, and 3,953 abstracts from the Los Alamos preprint server. There are also some full-text articles available where allowed by the copyright owner.

ADS is available freely over the internet at:

2 Science Citation Index

In Physics and Astronomy the database of most interest on the Web of Science service would be the Science Citation Index.

The Science Citation Index is produced by the Institute for Scientific Information. The Science Citation Index fully indexes over 5,300 major science journals. The database provides complete coverage of journal contents so that in addition to research and scholarly articles, it contains book and other reviews, editorial material, letters and biographical items. It covers articles from 1981 to the present days and is updated weekly.

Citation indexes consist of a list of references (cited works) in which each reference is followed by a list of the sources (citing works) which quote it. The main purpose being to lead the researcher from a key article to others which have referred to it.
The Citation Indexes are available on the Campus network through the Web of Science service at

3. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) E-Print Server

Started in August 1991, (formerly is a fully automated electronic archive and distribution server for research papers within the area of physics.
Articles can be retrieved via an on-line world wide web interface, or via e-mail, users can also register to automatically receive a listing of newly submitted papers in specific areas of interest. It covers physics and related disciplines, mathematics, nonlinear sciences, computational linguistics, and neuroscience. The server only contains full-text articles submitted by the authors. It is widely used within the Physics community.
The LANL E-Print Server is freely available over the internet at:

5.1 INSPEC on Edina

No access for U. Kent

INSPEC is produced by the Institution of Electrical Engineers and is regarded as the premier database for access to the world's leading scientific and technical literature in physics, electrical engineering, electronics, communications, control engineering, computers and computing and information technology.

INSPEC is not available on the campus network or through the Web at

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