Using academic social networks for literature searching

This ‘perspective post’ is going to look at using academic social networks for literature searching.

Now I want to make it very clear I am not advocating replacing a proper academic search strategy – with a social network. That’s a terrible idea! The University of Hull Library subscribes to some fantastic resources and you can check them out via your Subject LibGuide.

That caveat aside, I can now say that networks like Academia.edu and Researchgate.net can be very useful for collecting literature. I think they have two very specific purposes in any literature search:

  1. Expand your search beyond academic databases
  2. Find papers that you have already identified as useful, but we do not subscribe to

Expanding your search

The University Library has a fantastic guide on How to plan and conduct your searches. This is definitely the place to start any search, focusing your search on the resources identified in your Subject LibGuide.

If you still need more evidence, want to go beyond this kind of search or find more literature. That is where the networks come in. On both Academia.edu and Researchgate.net – you can search for research papers. This is never as precise as an academic database and it doesn’t have the same level of configuration –  but it will potentially give you access to thousands of articles.

One strength of Academia.edu and Researchgate.net, is that it is what I like to think of as a ‘human-curated’. I’ve struggled to find many topics through traditional databases, but come across a trove of papers on networks. The tagging and conversations on these networks allow a different kind of search to the title/keyword/abstract search of most databases.

Academia.edu and Researchgate.net will give you very different results to a database. Often results are lots of peer-reviewed papers, many with full-text available. Where text is not available, you can always ask the author for a copy and I tend to get a 50% success rate. This isn’t as immediate as library subscriptions, but is useful to expand the search. Results are however not always peer-reviewed and reliable. You may find unusable, non-peer-reviewed papers or essays. While you cannot cite these papers, their bibliographies are a treasure trove of potentially useful papers that you may not of already found.

Finding the full-text of papers you have already identified

The University Library subscribes to a large range of journals. Often, if you can’t find the full-text, it may be that you are not searching in the right place. The Library Catalogue will point you in the right direction (search for the journal title – NOT article title). If you can’t find the journal through the catalog, University of Hull staff and students are eligible to request an inter-library loan. This is an excellent service – but before using it, it is often worthwhile checking Academia.edu and Researchgate.net for the papers. Even if the papers are not there – the author may be and you can get in touch with them. This may get you the paper quicker, and lets you save ILLs for when you really need them.

Leave a Reply