Free online academic resources – part one (JSTOR and OED)

By Ali
Category: Academic | Date: Sat 22 Nov, 2008

You need some reference material for your essay or seminar preparation … but trekking to the library to dig out some musty books, to scour journal articles and to lug down the huge volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary is going to take hours.

Why not try using online academic resources instead? Almost all universities and many online colleges have subscriptions to two very useful ones:

  • JSTOR, which lets you access journal articles online
  • OED (Oxford English Dictionary), where you can search for authoritative word definitions, learn the etymology of a word, and find the first cited usage of it.

(And you’ll no doubt have access to a huge range of other journals, databases and encyclopaedias too – just ask in your university’s library for details.)

JSTOR – Journal articles

JSTOR explains that:

Our overarching aims are to preserve a record of scholarship for posterity and to advance research and teaching in cost–effective ways. We operate a research platform that deploys information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.

The site holds back issues of over a thousand journals, covering humanities, social sciences and sciences. These are kept from the very first issue, and you can search the full text of journal articles for key words or phrases. The more recent issues for each journal, approximately the last three to five years’ worth, aren’t available in full online but will still bring up results in your search – making it a quick way to find articles in these (rather than thumbing through volumes manually in the library).

How to use JSTOR:

You’ll need to login – try going to your university’s library website, and look for a link like “online resources” or “e-resources”, which will usually give instructions. In most cases, you’ll need an Athens login – this is probably sitting somewhere in your start-of-uni emails.

Once logged in, you can either search across all journals (which might be useful if you’re just beginning your research on the topic and don’t know where to look), or you can search by specific discipline (e.g. “Performing arts”, “Biological sciences”) or, by using the Advanced search, you can search within specific journals in each discipline.

You can also register for a “MyJSTOR” account, which allows you to save citations to your “MyJSTOR” area – this is very useful if you want to bookmark articles for future reference.

OED – Dictionary

The OED explains that:

The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past. It traces the usage of words through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English language sources, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is considered the serious, academic dictionary worldwide. Your university library will doubtlessly have a full copy, in multiple huge volumes. If you’re looking up several words, though, this is a real pain to use! It’s far quicker to search the OED online, where you can jump around via hyperlinks rather than lug volumes from the shelf to a table and back.

How to use the online OED

You may need to use your Athens login or your library card (often surname and barcode) to access the OED. Note that even if you’re not currently a member of a university, you may be able to get access through public library membership: the London Borough of Southwark, where I live, offers this.

Searching is very straightforward: as soon as you’ve logged in, you’ll see the search box. Just type in the word you’re looking for. If the word can mean several different things (e.g. “read”), then you’ll be offered a choice.

You can view the etymology of a word (the history of the word – how it entered the language), quotations from texts, literary and otherwise, that use the word, and a date chart for the word. And, as with all dictionaries, you get a definition and pronunciation guide.

Look out for part two on “Using online resources”, which will cover finding the full text of books online. To ensure you don’t miss it, get Alpha Student’s updates by RSS or by email (fill in the box below):

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  1. JSTOR is not free. It has in fact gone directly against the movement toward open access that has begun to allow information – in particular, non commercial knowledge acquired at universities supported by taxpayers. This chokehold on human knowledge is an artifact of an economics of scarcity that has no place in the digital universe.

  2. Interesting point, Tom. I guess from my point of view, it’s free to me as a student 😉 I realise that my university is paying, though!

    I suppose there’s always a difficulty with making copyrighted works (such as journal articles) available for free, due to legal constraints. Look out for my post in a few days on Project Gutenburg, where everything IS free – even to non-students…

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