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SEC 13: Written Communication about Engineering and Applied Science to Non-Experts: Resources

A short guide to resources for students taking SEC 11 at Caltech.

Caltech Connect

Whenever you're looking for articles in databases that don't give you full text, look for this icon, or the words "Caltech Connect," for help in determining whether we have access to that article.

If you need an article from a journal to which we don't subscribe, use our DocuServe InterLibrary Loan Service to request a copy for free.

Please see our LibGuide for more information on Library services available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On This Page

Helpful Resources
Links to databases and guides on how to use them more effectively, as well as other useful resources. It is recommended to do the same search in multiple databases and search engines, since they will frequently show different articles.

But... all I need is Google, right?!
Nope.

Speaking the Language
What does "plasma" mean to you?

A Brief Guide to Boolean Searching
A quick intro and video example.

Helpful Resources

Business pitches and policy briefs (1-pagers) can be found online by searching Google using the appropriate terms. It may help to view the Boolean Operator video below.

Advanced reading: The pitch and business plan for investors and partners

More articles on business and entrepreneurship can be found in Business Source Complete.

What are policy briefs? - from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations

The Wikipedia Manual of Style

The New York Times (1980-present) - via Nexis Uni

To add CaltechConnect options to Google Scholar results:

  1. Sign into (or create) your Google account and navigate to Scholar settings.
  2. Select "Library links" and search for "California Institute of Technology".
  3. Check the box next to "California Institute of Technology - Caltech Connect" and then click "Save".
  4. You should now see "Caltech Connect" on the right hand side of your search results.

To download a citation for an article:
Click the quotes image under the citation:
This will display a list of common citation formats, as well as options to download the citaiton in BibTeX and RefMan formats.

If you are not finding what you are looking for in the most popular databases and indexes, Caltech subscribes to many more databases that can be found here.

If you need help finding starting points for research in specific academic disciplines, click here.

But... all I need is Google, right??

Is there anything that Google can't find? Actually, yes there is.

As a start for searching, Google (and Google Scholar) are pretty great. However, I'm sure you've had the experience of looking for something on Google, only to find a ton of irrelevant things, or not exactly what you are looking for. Google suffers from two basic problems:

  1. It is web-based, and thus won't index anything that isn't web-accessible (i.e. anything in print).
  2. It is based (to a large extent) on popularity - search results aren't based necessarily on content relevancy, but rather on how many other pages link to them, or how many other people have clicked on a link after doing the same search.

There are ways to make Google a little smarter, and they will be discussed in another part of this guide. There are also specific library databases that can help you find relevant articles for your assignments. These databases are a little better than Google in that they are more narrow in scope than Google (for example, searching for "plasma" in a Biology-oriented database is more likely to give results having to do with the blood component rather than the state of matter). They also utilize something called controlled vocabulary which will be discussed in the next section. Finally, using Google (and Google Scholar to an extent) will search all types of web sources, not just scholarly ones. It's important to know how to evaluate what you're looking at, and resources in this course will help you to do just that.

Speaking the Language

You probably know that there are certain preferred words used to describe different things, usually under different circumstances. This is true of both scientific disciplines and databases. For example, take the word plasma. If you asked a physicist to define it, you'd probably get something different from what a biologist or doctor would say (i.e. a state of matter, versus a component of blood).

So, it's important to become familiar with the way concepts and techniques are described in your field of interest. The best way to do this is to read, read, and read some more! Pay attention to the way ideas and experiments are described in the literature. For example, in medicine, you've probably heard of the term "heart attack". Searching for that in the medical literature might get you some articles, but you'd soon discover (especially if you're using PubMed - more on that later) that the preferred term in the medical community is "myocardial infarction". Similarly, in the chemical community, common names of chemicals (for example, polyacetylene) are being phased out in favor of IUPAC names (polyethyne), but if you want to find older articles as well as newer articles, you need to know both!

Here are two sources to look out for that will help you learn preferred vocabulary:

1. Scholarly articles sometimes (but not always) have a section in the full text labeled Keywords, usually near the Abstract - here's an example - look just past the Abstract.

2. An excellent way to get an idea of preferred wording is to use a literature database such as Web of Science, PubMed, or SciFinder. All these databases show you groupings of preferred vocabulary when you search, although they are called slightly different things in each one. There is more about that elsewhere in this guide.

It should be noted though that Google Scholar, as great as it can be, doesn't offer any help with discovering preferred terminology - it recommends reading secondary sources!

A Brief Guide to Boolean Searching

  • AND: Forces your search results to include all terms connected by AND
  • OR: Search results will include any of the terms connected by OR (but not necessarily all)
  • NOT: Search results will include the first term but not the term following NOT
  • Quotes: Forces search results to include the exact wording between quotation marks

Senior Library Support for Digital Repository & Publishing Services