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Physics projects for Y3 and Y4 students

Literature research using Web of Knowledge

Scientific literature

Scientific literature is published in journals, proceedings, books, and on web pages. The four media each have their own purpose: Books cover a particular subject in depth and attempt to provide links between different areas within it. Many scientists put their own research on a web page so that they can replace older results with more recent ones as they come in. Results presented at conferences are often reported in special proceedings. When a significant step in a research programme has been achieved, the results are presented as full papers in a journal.

Refereed literature

All sources aren't equal.
Beware: All sources aren't equal! (Source: Randall Munroe, XKCD)

While research information presented on web pages can be very informative and up to date, there is no quality control: I could claim on my web page that I have undertaken an astronomical research project whose result shows clearly that the Sun circles around Earth. Assessing the quality of the data and conclusions drawn is a matter of trust and reflection on the readers' part.

Research submitted to journals is subject to a review process. The thoroughness of the process depends on the journal, but certain minimum standards of quality control can be taken for granted. In practice, after submission of the manuscript by the author (or group of authors), the journal's editor sends the manuscript to two or three referees - other scientists working in the same area. These (ought to) check that the experimental procedure is described in sufficient detail to allow others to reproduce the results. They also review the rigour of the analysis and whether the conclusions drawn and models proposed are in fact conclusive. The referees then prepare reports for the journal editor recommending that the paper be accepted, rejected, or accepted subject to amendments they deem necessary. In the latter case, the editor refers these back to the authors who can then resubmit a revised version of their manuscript. The referees know whose manuscript they're reviewing, but the authors don't know who the referees are.

Researching refereed publications

Aberystwyth University, like most institutions, is a subscriber to the "Web of Knowledge (WoK)", an Internet-based data base of refereed literature across all subjects. Note that WoK does not contain the journal papers themselves but only bibliographic information (which journal, pages, author names and affiliation...) and the abstracts of the papers. You can search for author names or keywords, and you can limit your search to certain journals or years. Or any combination of the above.

Search example: Windmills

Community wind turbine at CAT.

You can connect search terms by using the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT. If you want to search for a phrase consisting of several words, put it in quotation marks; otherwise the search will find abstracts that contain all of the words, but not necessarily as a single phrase. You can use * and ? as wildcards for any number of characters or a single character, respectively. Read the search guidance on WoK for full details of the search syntax.

Always take notes of your search strategy: You may notice later that you accidentally excluded some of your target papers. In the example below, offshore windfarms called "sea-based" rather than "offshore" would fall in this category. If you don't know the terminology of the field very well, you are likely to miss out on some target papers, and you may want to refine your search later.

To avoid having to wait for ages on the Internet, I sometimes find it easier to do a moderately general search, then have the whole output emailed as a text file and do the refining in a text editor. But here's the example (the numbers of hits may have increased since I worked out this example):

  • Say we want to learn about renewable energy sources:
    Search 1: "renewable energy" - 1733 hits
  • Too long a list. Concentrate on wind power:
    Search 2: "renewable energy" AND "wind" - 322 hits
  • Still a bit too much. A windmill is professionally known as turbine:
    Search 3: "renewable energy" AND "turbine" - 75 hits
  • The singular is probably a bit too restrictive:
    Search 4: "renewable energy" AND "turbine*" - 105 hits
  • People keep talking about offshore power generation:
    Search 5: "renewable energy" AND "offshore" - 11 hits
    But this would exclude land-based windmills and might include offshore power plants not using windmills.
  • How many of the windmill papers are about land-based windmills? Since land-based windmills are more common, these are probably not explicitly flagged as land-based windmill papers. So, how many windmill papers are not dealing with offshore power?
    Search 6: "renewable energy" NOT "offshore" - 101 hits
  • So probably 101 papers deal with land-based windmills. Of the 11 offshore papers, presumably only four deal with windmills. What other offshore powerplants are there?
    Search 7: "renewable energy" AND "offshore" NOT "turbine*" - 7 hits
    Well, most of these are about windmills but haven't got the "turbine" keyword in the abstract. There's something about emission-free fossil sources (which has accidentally passed the "renewable" filter) and even some nuclear energy. There are two papers on energy saving strategies as well.

Getting your hands on the actual paper

Once you have identified the abstracts that let the corresponding paper appear worthwhile, you can get the actual paper (in this order):

  1. online through list of full-text online journals available at Aberystwyth
  2. from one of the University's libraries after looking it up on Primo
  3. from the National Library of Wales after looking it up on the NLW database
  4. using the Document Supply service. Document Supply is a bit pricey, but you can get a few requests for free. They can take a while to process, so they're no good the night before the deadline.

Finally, remember: Having the paper isn't sufficient - you've got to read it too!

Content updated: ruw/190613