Pelli Lab

Literature Search Tips

Denis Pelli
Psychology and Neural Science, New York University

Acknowledgements. Written with help from Gloria Rohman, formerly at Electronic & Media Services, NYU Libraries. Thanks to Bill Maltarich, NYU Electronic Resource Librarian, for suggestions about using "Find Full Text" in Endnote.

Look in the big databases

1. PubMed (or PubMed for NYU to add NYU button) is part of the National Library of Medicine and insists on medical relevance; it excludes much of psychology. I wish they would expand their coverage to include all the life sciences. It includes only journal articles, no chapters or books. I prefer to access it via Endnote using the provided connection file. [People at NYU can get Endnote for free. Bill Overal recommends trying HubMed "for a better interface to PubMed, with export to Endnote. You will also like their Citation Finder."] As explained below, any article that's in the PubMed database can be ordered via their Loansome Doc service. PubMed is free to all.

2. PsycINFO has better coverage of psychology than does PubMed. It includes articles, chapters, books, and dissertations. Available only within the NYU network or to users with an NYU net id. (You can also access it via Endnote, using an NYU-specific Endnote connection file, from within the NYU network, but not by proxy, alas.)

3. Google Scholar. E.g., for my publications, search "pelli vision". Includes all kinds of work. Sorted by citation count. Free to all.

4. ISI Science Citation Index (also known as Web of Knowledge and Web of Science) includes only journal articles. Available only within the NYU network or to users with an NYU net id.

5. HighWire Press, a division of the Stanford University Libraries, "hosts the largest repository of high impact, peer-reviewed content, with 1126 journals and 4,715,097 full text articles from over 140 scholarly publishers." [Recommended by Bill Overal.] Free to all.

6. BOOKS: Library of Congress and NYU catalogs include only books, no articles. I prefer to access them via Endnote using the provided connection files. Free to all.

7. $. BOOKS: Amazon and Bookfinder sell books, new and used, often at extremely reasonable prices, so you may prefer to buy than borrow. Amazon's simple search generates too many false positives so I always use their advanced book search, which the above link will take you to. Amazon has a better user interface, but Bookfinder has a higher hit rate. too can help you find used & new books. It's particularly useful when you want to provide a link in a web page to help users buy the book, without endorsing any particular vendor. lists all the suppliers, ranked by price. Just include the book's ISBN number in your link, e.g. Their used book offerings are quite extensive. I always try amazon first. Sometimes useful. Crummy user interface, but often finds books that the others miss. Good for used textbooks. Recommended by Shawn Langston, February 2015. Provides unbiased help to allow someone to buy a book, new or used, from whichever is the cheapest vendor. Good for your web site.

8. THESES: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses (formerly UMI, formerly University Microfilms) only has dissertations. Full search available only within the NYU network or to users with an NYU net id. Retrieval is open to all. For most of the recent theses and some of the older ones you can download a PDF for free; for the rest you must pay for a xerox copy.

9. Amanda Samuels (March 11, 2010) recommends Academic Info: Online Psychology Degree & Resources. "In addition to online psychology degree information, they also feature in-depth subject guides with tons of resources and tips."

10. What am I missing? Please tell me.

Get the PDF

In theory, once you've found an article that you want in a big database, its PDF, if it exists, ought to be a click away. Everyone seems to be working towards that goal, but we're not quite there yet. NYU has a fairly comprehensive set of subscriptions, providing electronic access to journals, but it can be tedious to get to the article. Here are several good ways. This emphasizes Endnote, which I use and recommend (available for Mac and Windows). (Also see Gloria's Endnote page.) I'm told that similar things are possible with Refworks (available only for Windows). Note that NYU's electronic access is available only if your computer is on the network or you have an NYU net id.

0. Name the PDF file. Typically when you download a PDF file it arrives with a useless file name like "article.pdf", so you should give it a better name. After some experimentation, I've settled on author+year+word + ".pdf", e.g. "pelli2004crowding.pdf". It's all lowercase because any other rule is hard to apply consistently. I use only the first author (no "et al."). I use the full 4-digit year: 2004. The word is taken from the title and is intended to be mneumonic, to give a hint as to the topic of the article. (This more helpful than the journal name.) Note that this scheme adds no extra punctuation beyond the standard period before "pdf". The author and word are separated by a number so they are easily parsed. If you wonder whether you've got the article on your disk, this naming rule is easy enough to remember that you can search for "pelli" or "pelli2004" or "crowding" and find it if you've got it. (Thanks to Norma Graham for her suggestions, which were my starting point.)

1. PubMed provides a link to its database entry for each paper, which usually includes an abstract, and sometimes includes a link to the paper itself. That's great when it does go to the paper, but it rarely does for papers published before 1999. When you download a reference from PubMed into Endnote, it includes that PubMed link. Here's an example:

2. NYU electronic journal page. It is not widely advertised, but NYU library has a very nice web page that allows you to access all of their electronic journals.This includes most of the journals you'll ever want to access. You can type in any facts that you know about the article you need and it will find it and let you download the PDF. You can do it by journal name or DOI or PMID. It only works if you're on campus or have an NYU id. I use it every day.

3. Endnote "Find full text" is better than OpenURL, below. In Endnote, go to Edit > Preferences > Find Full Text.
All boxes should be selected except the "ISI Web of Knowledge" one.
"Authenticate with":
You shouldnow be able to right-click (i.e. control-click) on any reference (or group of references) and click the "Find Full Text" button.
You can open the PDF attached to the selected reference by clicking the "Open File" button.
If you have not authenticated yet, you might have to login first, and then repeat the "Find Full Text" maneuver. It will then automatically grab a PDF of the article (if available) and attach it to the citation. Thanks to Bill Maltarich, NYU Electronic Resources Librarian, for this tip.

4. Endnote OpenURL is helpful, but not as helpful as "Find full text" above. Endnote can automatically generate an OpenURL (also called “SFX”) query and send it to your university's Open URL/SFX server. To enable Endnote's OpenURL support, open the menu item Endnote:Preferences:OpenURL. Click the check box to enable OpenURL support and enter (if you're at NYU)
as the OpenURL path. Then click Save. Now you can open any reference in your Endnote library and then select the menu item Reference:URL:OpenURL link. This generates an OpenURL request to the NYU library server and will cause a window to open in your browser with links to get to your article. See 4.

Endnote is free at NYU. The NYU Libraries has obtained a site license under which NYU faculty, administrators, staff, and students may use EndNote free of charge. In collaboration with the Libraries, ITS has made EndNote available for download by qualified NYU community members. For more information, please see (Alas, as of October 2008, NYU is providing version X1, whereas the current release is X2, which is significantly better. Get X2.)

5. OpenURL (also called “SFX”) is a standard for specifying an article in a web link. As noted above, in 2 & 3, there are several ways of generating the OpenURL request. Here's a typical request (abbreviated):
That URL takes you to an SFX page with links to get your article. (You can use the “Save and Format Citation” menu item on the SFX page to save the OpenURL for future use, e.g. as a link in a course page to provide your students with direct access to articles.) Typically the OpenURL request to the NYU server will succeed in finding an electronic source for the PDF. It also points you to NYU's paper holdings. If NYU doesn't have the paper, then you can forward the request to nyu's interlibrary loan who will arrange for electronic document delivery from another university, in a week or so.

6. Google the author and title (or try Google Scholar), hoping that that someone has put a PDF on the web.

7. $. Pay for document delivery. They scan the article, making a PDF that they put on their server, notify you by email, and charge your credit card. I recommend these three vendors. MIT is my favorite.

MIT Library document delivery charges $12 for an article in “3-5 days” (up to 50 pages, plus $0.25 per page over 50), but typically deliver sooner. Add $15 for same-day delivery: request by noon and receive by 5 pm the same day. In my experience (about 50 orders) they are utterly reliable, and usually deliver days ahead of their deadline. MIT immediately acknowledges your order by email, which is helpful and reassuring. I like this service and always ask them first. I try the other services only when MIT cannot fill the order, which happens when their library does not have the journal or book.

Loansome Doc at National Library of Medicine. This is a network of libraries. It's a great service but only accepts orders for articles listed in PubMed. You sign up with one library. (I use Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.) They try to fill your order, but, if they can't, they pass the order on to another library in the network. I've used this several times in 2007 and like it a lot.

British Library document supply charges $12.50 (plus copyright) per article for 2-5 day service, but is typically much faster. Add $12.50 for 24-hour service or $20.50 for 2-hour service. Every page is stamped “Supplied by the British Library.” I find it annoying that the British Library does not send any email acknowledgement until it fills your order (or says it can't), so you may want to make a record of it yourself. They reliably filled or responded to all my orders (about ten). The copyright fee varies among journals and can be enormous (e.g. 25 pounds sterling). The document provided can only be printed once. You may want to print to PDF.

8. The last resort is to actually go to the library (or get someone to go on your behalf) to xerox the article. I hope that university libraries and xerox machines will soon offer the choice of scanning to PDF instead of copying to paper.

9. Do you know another way? Please tell me.

Create a formatted reference list

1. I use Endnote, which includes templates for most journals, and allows you to further customize the template to handle special cases. NYU has a site license, so, if you're a member of the university, you can download Endnote for free.

2. For books, Bill Overal recommends Ottobib for "ISBN to full APA or Chicago style citation, or even Wikipedia non-style."

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