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Science - Chemistry 2 & 3 - Organic & Analytical Chemistry: Chemistry Literature

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Retrieving Information from Chemistry Literature

How we retrieve information from the chemical literature depends on the type of information desired.

  • If you are doing in depth investigation on a topic, the ultimate goal of information retrieval would be to find the original report that contains the raw data from which all other reports are derived.
  • If, for example, you need only the melting point of an organic compound, you can stop your literature search once you have found the information in a reference work.  
  • If you want to survey a general topic of organic chemistry, such as Perkin reaction, you would probably look for journals articles or book chapters.
  • If for example you want to repeat a particular synthetic scheme already reported in the literature, you would want to study the original journal article in order to find out the exact reaction conditions used and what problems were encountered.

Engaged in Research

Reviewing Literature

Reviewing literature, the end product of which is often a written document known as a literature review, is an essential part of research. This is where you read around your research topic, using both primary and secondary sources. The aim of a literature review is to understand the background theory and to find all of the important research (or the vast majority at least!) that has been conducted on your topic.

Reviewing literature can help also you develop your research question.


Literature Review

A literature review is a written document that provides background information on your subject area and details previous research that is relevant.

A good literature review is far more than an account of who researched what and when. As you read through the literature, it's common to find conflicting views/results between authors and it's important to point out these differences and potentially explain why there are discrepancies between authors when you come to prepare your written literature review. Don't be afraid to include your personal views about the subject - you're as entitled as the next person to add your thoughts and if you've done a thorough review of the literature you should be pretty knowledgeable on the subject area.

It's important to reference your sources of information correctly by using citations within the text and a list of referenced material at the end

Secondary Resources

If you're relatively new to the chosen subject area, secondary literature (books, websites, journal reviews) can give you a gentle introduction and provide basic information to get you started

Primary & Secondary Chemistry Literature

The complete, written, published record of chemical knowledge is referred to as the chemical literature. The primary literature, or original literature, comprises the original reports of compound preparation, compound characterization, mechanistic studies, etc. These reports usually appear in research journals (as articles, notes and communications) and in patent disclosures.

Some of the research journals in Organic Chemistry are:

  • Journal of the American Chemical Society
  • Journal of Organic Chemistry
  • Chemical Communications
  • South African Journal of Chemistry

From the primary literature, information flows into the secondary literature. The secondary literature consist of compilations of data, articles reviewing entire areas of research, textbooks, abstracts or summaries of individual current research articles, etc.

While the primary literature concerns itself with the reports of new findings, the goal of the secondary literature publications is to summarise and correlate chemical knowledge. The summarization and correlation are necessary because of the sheer volume of chemical knowledge. Also, as new facts are discovered, chemical theories undergo modifications, and previous errors in the literature are corrected. No person could possibly keep up with current chemical news and views by reading the primary literature alone. The secondary literature allows us to keep abreast of an area of study; to find the physical constants of a compound or to find a pertinent original journal article.