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Independent Distance Learners (IDLs): Journal Articles

A guide to Information Services support for HWU IDLs

Finding journal articles

To search for articles, you can use Discovery or individual databases.  There are many databases that allow you to find journal articles - some are publisher databases, which will find only articles from that publisher (e.g. ScienceDirect/Elsevier, Sage, ASCE etc), other resources allow you to cross-search many publishers (e.g. Web of Science, Scopus, Discovery, ProQuest).

For undergraduate level and if you are trying to find something specific

Generally speaking, the best resource for you to start with is Discovery. This allows you to cross-search lots of different online publishers/databases (including ICE, ASCE, Sage, Elsevier (ScienceDirect), ProQuest…) as well as print library collections, and allows you to find books/eBooks, journal articles, news articles, conference papers etc, that match the keywords you enter into the search box.

For dissertations, theses and research

If you are looking to undertake a more thorough and systematic review of the literature, then you should search proper Abstracting & Indexing Databases (e.g. Scopus. Web of Science, ProQuest databases).  This will help ensure a more comprehensive literature search and you can take advantage of the database functionality, such as advanced searching, saving searches and setting up alerts.  Should you require advice on this, please get in touch.

Understanding journal articles

The Royal Society of Chemistry have written a short PDF guide to reading journal articles, covering their structure and content, peer review, and reading critically.  The guide is aimed at undergraduate students: you will find it useful if you are new to using journal articles in your studies.

Note: although written by RSC, this is a useful overview for all subject areas.

Keeping up-to-date

You access Heriot-Watt subscription databases with your Heriot-Watt username/password.  You can also register with these resources to set up a personal account.  Once registered you can save your searches and set up the following types of alert:

  • Table of Contents (TOCS) Alerts
    • TOCs from newly published journal issues
  • Search / author alerts
    • New articles and other sources that match your search criteria
  • Citation alerts
    • When a journal article or conference paper references a paper you have specified as being of interest

Should you require advice on this, please get in touch.

Finding Journal Articles (Discovery)

Discovery searches across many of the Library's databases, full-text collections and book catalogue.  You can enter search terms/keywords in the search box below:

or, for advanced searching, go to:


  • Discovery can be a useful starting point for research, and is THE resource if you want to check if something is part of our collections.
  • If you are off-campus, you should sign-in with your Heriot-Watt username (in the format abc123) and password to make sure you get the full list of results.
  • It does not search all Heriot-Watt resources, therefore you may need to use resources in addition to Discovery.

Literature searching for your dissertation/thesis:

  • By default, the search results are set to show only those we have full-text access to.  If you want to find the most relevant results, you should select the 'search outside Heriot-Watt' option.
  • If you are conducting a more systematic or advanced literature search, you should take advantage of the features of our more specialist databases.

See also:

Using Discovery to search for...

A journal article will look similar to this:

  • Nilsson, K. L. (2007) 'Managing Complex Spatial Planning Processes', Planning Theory & Practice, 8(4), pp. 431-447.

If you are looking for something specific, then it's quickest to put your words in “quote marks”, e.g., using the above journal article as an example, you would search for:

["Managing Complex Spatial Planning ProcessesNilsson]

Further advice on understanding references is given here:

If you are looking for general results on a topic, then just enter the most appropriate keywords. Think carefully about your keywords - the words you use, and how you combine them, will determine how successful your search results are.  See also:

Off-campus access

When off-campus, you will be prompted for your Heriot-Watt username/password.  For help with usernames/passwords, see:

You don't have the journal article I need, or it is only available in print

There are a number of ways of getting hold of books, chapters or articles we don't have in stock see:

Limiting your Discovery search to only journals articles

Discovery  cross searches many different types of resources.  Use the limiters on the left hand side of the screen to narrow your results.

To limit your results to only articles:

  • Under 'Resource Type', select 'Articles':

If you want to limit your search to online online articles:

  • Under 'Show Only', select 'Full Text Online'

Recent Heriot-Watt Research Output

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