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Astronomy, Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Physics for the Nonscientist: Research Tips!

Resources for nonscience majors taking a course in physics, astronomy, and/or geology.

Research Tips

In the sciences, many resources you use might be electronic-only, and you will typically access them via web content. I’m using the term web content instead of web site because web content contains multiple overlapping subcategories of information sources.

A 2012 conspiracy theory web site and the web site for a peer-reviewed journal on apocalypticism are both web content. You may access both of them via Google. However, the content is different, both in terms of accuracy and intended audience. The conspiracy theory web site’s target audience is other conspiracy theorists and potential conspiracy theorists. The peer-reviewed journal on apocalypticism may contain articles on 2012, but these will come from the perspective of trained sociologists, psychologists, and other academic professionals. (Peer-reviewed means that every article in the journal is sent to at least one other person by the journal's editorial team. The article is then checked for scientific validity, which adds an additional layer of authoritativeness.)

For academic research, it’s best to limit oneself to peer-reviewed and canonical resources when first investigating a discipline. The tab Articles and Books contains information about electronic (web-based) content, including CREDO Reference, Academic Search Premier, and the ebooks to which our library subscribes.

Occasionally, scientists will also write for popular news venues. When you think an article from the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, or other traditional or new media news site might fit, look at the author’s credentials and/or interviewees to determine if they are experts in a subject related to the article’s topic.

Tip #1: If you are looking for a book and know that you want it, copy its ISBN and paste that into Orbis. This requires the edition of the book to be the same as the one for the ISBN you have found, but it’s an excellent way to see if we have something in print.

Tip #2: In the sciences and social sciences, most articles have unique identifiers (think serial numbers) called DOIs. If you use the prefix in front of the DOI, it will automatically resolve to the version of the article on the journal provider’s web site. Here are some examples of DOIs:


So, if we were to prefix the first one, you would use as the URL.

Tip #3: If you want to make use of special collections, try the Yale Finding Aids Database. In science courses for non-majors, paper prompts are sometimes, but not always, open enough for these materials to be used if topically relevant.

Go to (main library page).

We can access subject terms by typing our query into the QuickSearch box and navigating to the Books+ search results. Note that you need to click "Books+" beneath the search box to stop viewing all media types.

Make sure that you are in Books+

From there, click on the record of a book. You will then be at the item-level record, as shown here.

A library item record for a book on the Copernican revolution with the subject headings highlighted.

Within the record information are several clickable links, including subject terms. These are curated terms that are given to books based on their content, and a book will share subject terms with many other titles.

The results set after we click on a subject term, in this case, celestial mechanics.

When we click on a subject term, we are taken back to Books+ search interface, where a new search has been run. The option in the drop-down box has also changed from All Fields to Subject.

A closeup of the bar at the top of the search results showing how the results type can be set.

Here is a second set of subject search results for books related to scientific communication.

An individual book record gives us the ability to display the record in Orbis if we choose through an option in the menu, "Display In"

Another option for you is to use our Orbis interface to browse nearby subject headings. From an individual item record page, go to Display In and choose Display in Orbis.

The Orbis version of the record, with Subjects highlighted.

You will now be at our older catalog record version of the title, which also has clickable subject terms.

The list of Subjects in Orbis.

Clicking on one of these terms will take you to a list. Note that in the upper right, there will be previous and next buttons — you can browse through all of our subject headings in order here. I will click on the first heading, with over 300 results.

A list of books within that subject.

You are now viewing a list of books that have the subject heading we picked.

Preprint: Original version of a manuscript. This is the manuscript that is (often) first uploaded to the arXiv, and it's the version submitted to a journal. Many preprint servers like the arXiv assign unique IDs to each preprint. Sometimes, authors may upload multiple versions.

Postprint: After a journal article has been peer reviewed, some journals allow the author(s) to post an updated version of their work to the arXiv or to an institutional repository. The postprint includes edits from the peer review process, but (usually) doesn't apply the style file of the publisher. It usually provides information about the journal that the article was accepted in; the best practice is to link to the version of record.

Version of record/publisher's version: This is the version of the manuscript published in a journal volume or on the publisher's website. It has been styled according to the publisher's formatting guidelines and has been assigned a digital object identifier (DOI).

Science Research Support Librarian - Life Sciences

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Kayleigh Bohemier
Please email me or use the Schedule Appointment button. In-person and virtual (Zoom) appointments are both possible. Please note that Science Hill is a 15-minute walk from central campus, and there is a temporary entrance due to construction.

My default ONSITE days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. During the semester (not during breaks!), I am onsite on Thursdays. I am OFFSITE most Mondays.


Marx Science and Social Science Library (formerly called CSSSI)
Office C41
219 Prospect Street
Concourse Level
Kline Biology Tower