Where you will search for scholarly journal articles depends on your topic and area of study. A multidisciplinary database such as Academic Search Complete is often a good starting point, but you have to be sure to set limits so that your results are academic in nature. The Articles, Indexes, and Databases page links to lists of databases by disciplines. If you are not sure which databases are the best fit for your project, ask a librarian.
Search using keywords, not questions.
Databases don't answer your questions -- they return search results based on your queries. Databases don't understand questions, so to get good results, search using keywords. Break your research question into its main concepts, then brainstorm good search terms for those concepts.
Use the advanced search interface.
Using the advanced search interface will help you improve your results by letting you enter your key concepts in separate boxes and set advanced search limits.
Use search limiters to filter your results.
If you are looking for peer-reviewed journal articles, why not set your search limits to eliminate anything that is not peer-reviewed and a journal article? This will save you time when you begin looking at your results. This is especially important in multidisiplinary databses like EBSCO's Academic Search Complete. Some other databases contain only material from peer-reviewed journals, but it is important to remember that journals include materials other than articles, such as book reviews.
Evaluate your search results.
The databases do not read your mind and present you with the perfect articles for your topic. They return search results based on your queries. This means that you are responsible for reading the abstracts of articles and deciding whether they are a good match for your purposes. If so, look for the full text of the article. If not, move on to the next result.
Search, then search again.
Often, your first search isn't the best search. As you are reviewing your results, look for specialized vocabulary and terms that may make better search terms than the keywords you used, and retry your database. If you are not getting good results even with multiple searches, you may be searching in the wrong database for your project. Try using another database. Ask a librarian for recommendations for good choices in your field.
If you aren't sure whether an article you've found is scholarly, look for the following signs:
Is the article from a peer-reviewed or scholarly journal? If so, chances are that you've found an academic article. However, be sure that what you've found is indeed an article, not a book review, editorial, letter to the editor, or other section that may be published in such journals.
An abstract is a brief summary of the article. Most academic articles will begin with an abstract. This is what you should read during your initial search to see whether something is a good source.
Scholarly articles are usually written by people who are associated with universities or research institutes. The author's affiliation should be listed in the database as well as on the article itself (usually on the first page).
The language in academic articles is scholarly, which means that the language used is formal and specialized to the field of the study.
Charts, Graphs, and Tables (in some fields)
In some fields, another sign of a scholarly article is the presence of charts, graphs, and tables presenting data from original research done by the authors.
Academic articles contain lots of references. Academic work is not done in a vacuum; authors and researchers build on previous work. This work must be cited both in the text of the article and in a references section. The purpose of the references is twofold: to give credit to the author(s), and to allow readers of the paper to find the works cited.