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Module A Understanding Research Literature

Module A
Understanding Research Literature

Read the following information carefully and then complete the short quiz at the end to test your knowledge. You can then move on to Module B: Searching the web

Module A: Understanding Research Literature

The following topics are presented in sequence in Module A: Understanding Research Literature:

  1. Books
  2. Journals
  3. Peer Review

By the end of this section you will be able to:

  • Identify what an academic book is and how it is structured
  • Understand the difference between print and electronic books
  • Understand what academic journals and journal articles are
  • Understand what peer review means in the academic context


As a frame of reference, you will be familiar with textbooks used at GSCE and A Level. At university you will use a wide range of books from textbooks which are written specifically for undergraduate students, to the specialised works of advanced academic researchers.

These books may be available in two formats: print or electronic. Irrespective of format, books will have a number of standard features. Understanding these features will help you identify content relevant to your studies. Often you will not be expected to read a single book cover to cover but rather navigate several books and extract information relevant to your work.

There will be a title on the front cover, author(s) or editor information and possibly edition and publisher information. Some of these features are discussed in the module C on referencing.

Within the first few pages of the book you will discover the contents page. This outlines the structure of the book with chapter breakdown and page numbers to assist with orientation to the relevant section.

The bibliography usually appears at the back of the book and will contain a list of all sources used by the authors in the writing of the book. It provides evidence of the primary and secondary sources. Bibliographies are covered in greater detail in Module C.

Publisher information is usually found in the initial pages of the book. It is here that you will identify who the publisher is, place and date of publication. This information may appear with a copyright symbol.

At the back of the book there may be an index. This contains useful information about key concepts, names and dates relating to the subject matter of the book. It is always helpful to use the index to home in on your topic.

Some books may contain a list of abbreviations and definitions of specific terms. This may come under the heading of glossary or abbreviations and may appear at the front or the back of the book.


  • touch
  • flick through
  • found on a shelf
  • physically borrowed
  • locate using a shelfmark


  • read online
  • scroll through
  • found / read online
  • accessible virtually
  • linked to from a catalogue

All Books

  • title
  • author or editor
  • edition
  • publisher
  • date of publication

Locating Books

The library purchases books that will be available to you for your studies. These books will be printed books as well as electronic. To help you to find these books, you will need to search the library’s catalogue. The catalogue provides a listing of all the books the library has available.

The following shows the Queen's University Library Search homepage, where you can enter your search criteria and refine your results using additional search filters:

A screenshot of the Queen's University Library Search Homepage

If the book is a print book, the catalogue will provide the shelfmark. A shelfmark will only exist for a physical book. It is a set of letters and numbers on the spine of a book which indicates where it is located in the library. Ebooks do not have shelfmarks.

If the book is electronic, it is accessible through the library catalogue which provides a link to the title. It can be read online with some licensing conditions. Note you can access ebooks at home or at university. With print books, you will need to go to the library to physically borrow them.