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Literature Review Survival Library Guide: How To Follow References

created by Alex D'Angelo

Video - How to Interpret Your Reading List

How To Follow References

How to follow references, find books, articles, theses, conference papers…..

If you are doing a taught course, rather than a purely research one, you are likely to be handed a reading list.

And if you are doing a research course you will have to generate your own reading list often by following up references you find in books, other people’s theses, and journal articles.

You can find yourself looking for

* books

* chapters in books

* articles in journals,

* theses

* conference papers, proceedings…

* unpublished papers

You must be able to distinguish between these types of references in order to find them, and know the tools for finding each.

Finding books:

A reference which lists a publisher and the place where the item was published usually refers to a book.

For example:

Cohen, Josh, How to read Freud (London : Granta Books, 2005.)

Once you know that you're trying to find a book, identify the author's or editor's name, or the title of the book and search the library catalogue.

If you don’t find it, come to the Reference Desk and we’ll check the national catalogue and then ask our Inter-Library loans department to get it for you if it is in South Africa.

We’ve also been known to buy books at the request of students, particularly postgraduate students, (though we tend to like a word of agreement from an appropriate academic first), but these can take a while to arrive.

Finding a CHAPTER in a book:

Some books are made up of a collection of chapters or papers, each one written by a different author and then edited by one or more editors.

The author and title details of the chapter are given first, followed by the word IN, followed by details of the book as a whole: the editor, the title of the book and the publication details.

Finally the pages of the chapter are given. Usually the title of the book is distinguished by being underlined or put in italics.

For example:

Nightingale, D. 1997 . Understanding and practicing critical psychology. In Fox, D. (ed.) Critical psychology: an introduction, London, Sage, pp 68-84

So you’d look for the book, (not the chapter in the book) on the library catalogue, either searching under the title of the edited book, or under author for the name of the editor.

But you will NOT find it on the catalogue if you look for the title of the CHAPTER or the AUTHOR OF THE CHAPTER.

Finding articles in journals:

Same story as chapters in books – look for the Journal, not the Article on the catalogue.

You can often find them in (1) print format or in (2) electronic format.

Finding a print journal

You can find printed journals on the library catalogue by searching for the Journal title. Remember, if you are following a reference to a journal article, the library catalogue will not list that article – only the journal which contains it.

The title of the journal is often either underlined or in italics.

For example:

Bojuwoye, O. 2002. Stressful experiences of first year students of selected universities in South Africa. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, Sep, Vol. 15 Issue 3, p277-290

The reference will also indicate the specific year, volume and pages of the article. The catalogue record will show you whether we have all the issues of that journal. Make sure that the library has the year or volume for which you are looking.

If we don’t have the journal in print, or don’t have that specific volume, we can try the national catalogue for an inter-library loan, but we’d check for an electronic version first.

Finding a journal in electronic form.

Select the "e-journals' tab (below the "books" tab) on the library homepage and type in the title of the journal. 

This will take you to the journal on whichever database holds the full text of that journal.

There you can browse through complete issues of a journal, or, in many cases, search within it for particular terms.

Often the latest electronic version is available weeks before we get the latest issue in print, so it is a good way of keeping current with a favourite journal.

Unfortunately, publishers sometimes embargo the latest electronic issue (delay it by a few months or years) to protect their print sales. In that case you might have to look for it in print on our catalogue, or ask for an article by inter-library loan if we do not have the journal.

Finding a thesis:

It is important to see what other theses have been done in your field if you are starting a Master's or Doctoral thesis. It would be disastrous to find that you have spent a year repeating somebody else’s work, and may lead to suspicion of plagiarism.

It is also useful to see what similar work has been done on your topic – you can use a thesis’s references and bibliography as a starting point and take the research further, or explore a different angle. Often the thesis itself will constitute a body of material that is available nowhere else – results from an individual’s primary research in a local town or suburb, for example.

If a Master's or Doctoral thesis was done at UCT, you will find it on the catalogue the same way you would a book – look for the author’s last name or words from the title or both.

If it was done at another South African university we can get a copy through Inter-library loan or, increasingly, simply download it for free from that university’s web site.

This is sometimes possible for overseas theses too, but most likely we would have to buy a copy. This can often be done, but is expensive and the thesis will take some time to arrive.

Finding South African theses - three options:

National ETD Portal South Africa: South African theses and Dissertations 

"This site is run by the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) in collaboration with the Committee of Higher Education Librarians of South Africa (CHELSA).It provides access to the full text of many thousands of doctoral PHD and some other dissertations produced in South African universities. These cover the full range of science, social science and humanities topics. There is some coverage from as early as the 1970s although there are larger numbers of post 2009 records. Search by keyword or browse."

Union Catalogue of Theses and Dissertations (UCTD) available in SACat - via Sabinet Reference 

Bibliographic records of theses and dissertations at Master and Doctorate level submitted to universities in SA since 1918. Updated annually.

Nexus Database System 

Provided by the National Research Foundation, Nexus includes databases of: Current and Completed Research Projects in the Humanities and Social Sciences; Professional Associations; Forthcoming Conferences; Periodicals' Submission Requirements; Research Organisations; Research Networking; Research Methodology Courses; and Women in Research. 

The database of Current and Completed Research Projects requires a password - please contact the Chancellor Oppenheimer Library on 021 650 3703/4 or the Law Library on 021 650 2708/9.

Finding other African theses:

Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD) 


The Database of African Theses and Dissertations (DATAD) is a programme to improve management and access to African scholarly work. It is an abstracts database containing information from 11 African institutions, some as far back as 1982.

Finding American and some UK theses:

WorldCat Dissertations and Theses 

This database provides access to the dissertations and theses available in OCLC member libraries. Many theses are available electronically, at no charge, directly from the publishing institution.(Librarian’s note - a tab labeled "internet" comes up with the search, allowing you to restrict the search to those theses which are freely available online.)

Dissertation Abstracts 

With more than 2 million entries, PQD&T is the single, central, authoritative resource for information about doctoral dissertations and master's theses. Dissertations published from 1980 forward include 350- word abstracts written by the author. Master's theses published from 1988 forward include 150-word abstracts. Tese are not free - but the library may be able to buy a copy if needed by a researcher.

Titles available as native or image PDF formats include free twenty-four page previews. UMI offers over 1.8 million titles for purchase in microform, paper or electronic formats.

Some of our other databases, particularly Humanities International, SocIndex for general social sciences, MLA for literature, EconLit for economics, and PsycInfo for psychology, provide abstracts of theses along with abstracts of books and journal articles. You will often encounter a reference to a relevant thesis when searching for journal articles or book chapters on these databases.

Finding conference papers or proceedings:

A reference to a paper from a conference or seminar will often contain the words Proceedings of..., Conference..., Symposium or Papers from... in the title, followed by the organisation involved or the title of the conference.

Some papers or collections of papers are published on their own and are very much like books, having a clear title and author or editor.

For example:

Evaluating social programs and problems : visions for the new millennium / edited by Stewart I. Donaldson, Michael Scriven ; the Stauffer Symposium on Applied Psychology at the Claremont Colleges. Mahwah, N.J. : Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003.

Find them as you would any other book on the library catalogue, searching for title or editor or both.

But SOMETIMES the reference will be to a paper BURIED in the report of the conference, the way individual chapters are buried in books.

In that case look on the catalogue for the report of the conference, not the individual paper, just as you would look for a journal, not a journal article, or a book, not a chapter in a book.

And make sure you have the right year – many conferences are held annually, so if you are looking for a paper delivered at a 2003 conference, then you are specifically after the 2003 reports, for example, not the 1985 ones.

If you run into difficulty, try doing a keyword search on the catalogue for significant words from the title of the conference or the name of the organising group (e.g. Stauffer Symposium on Applied Psychology).

If it is not at UCT we will look on the national catalogue and try for an Inter-Library loan.

On a cheery note, some organizations do put up their conference papers free on the web, so a Google search can help you here, with a bit of luck.

Finding unpublished papers:

Errrm – these are tricky. Also they can mean two things – (1) papers composed and read out at a conference, seminar, as a draft of an article, etc…. Or (2) papers left, often in a bundle, to an institution or archive by an individual, living or dead.

(1) Modern papers – things read out at conferences and the like - will sometimes be on a catalogue or the national catalogue if they have been donated to a library.

Sometimes they will have been written up or developed into a proper journal article and published, perhaps with a new title – searching for the author and main keywords of the paper on our journal databases can help to dig them out.

But frankly, it is difficult.

Google can help with this since many people put unpublished papers up on their private or organization’s or academic department’s web site.

If there isn’t a donated print or free electronic version to be found, then we are down to asking the author if they would please e-mail us a copy directly. The library can do this for you, or simply provide you with the contact details if you’d like to make one-to-one contact.

We can usually find contact details in our reference books of academic institutions, World of Learning, for example, is a useful electronic source for this. Otherwise we just Google them of course.

(2) Collections of an individual or organisation’s papers.

There are national directories, such as Record Repositories in Great Britain: a geographical directory which will help to identify the repository which has the papers of particular people. A good American directory is available free on the web from the Library of Congress, by the way, – search for "National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections" on Google.

Our own Manuscripts and Archives Library has links to many such directories on its web page.

Although manuscript collections are often not listed on the library catalogue, it is possible to find if the archive has anything useful to your research by checking the finding aids on the archive website. These are detailed lists of each collection and you can do a word search across all the lists. Go to our own Manuscripts & Archives website at http://www.lib.uct.ac.za/mss/ and click on finding aids.

The staff in Manuscripts & Archives are also able to help you in finding material that you need.

Thereafter, viewing collections of an individual’s papers deposited in any library or archive would usually involve visiting that collection and looking through them.

But do get in touch with the library or archive before flying out to some repository in Transylvania, or wherever it is.

There may be a catalogue which lists and describes the individual papers in the collection, either a published one (like the Guide to manuscripts in the Alan Paton Centre and Archives, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg) or one written up by the library or archive which houses them (our own Manuscripts and Archives department does a great many such).

Sometimes the catalogue will be available on the web, or an archivist can do a search of their in-house catalogue on your behalf and give you an idea of what is actually there.

Sometimes digital versions of the original document will be available from that library or archive, or copies of a particular letter or field report can be made and sent to you (for a fee, as a rule).

A last point:

Librarians are quite good at finding things. In fact, we are noted for it - we do it for a living. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask for it.