Teaching Chemical Information:
Tips and Techniques
— June 1997 —
Developed by Carol Carr and Arleen Somerville
Presented at the National Chemical Information Symposium
University of Vermont, June 1994
and augmented from discussions in Aug. 1995
Every undergraduate chemistry major should know that an extensive chemical literature exists, e.g. there are specific scientific and chemical dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, and data compilations.
- Structure of chemical information
- The primary mode of published information transfer in chemistry is the journal article or patent.
- The types of sources available; when and how to use each source.
- journal articles (types of articles — “letters,” full article, review; sections of a typical full article.
- books (whole books exist on topics simply mentioned in their texts)
- handbooks (e.g. CRC Handbook of Physics and Chemistry, Merck Index, Dictionary of Organic Compounds)
- abstracts/indexes: bibliographic (e.g. Chemical Abstracts, Physics Abstracts, Biological Abstracts, Beilstein, Gmelin, Current Contents, Science Citation Index); numeric and other types specific to chemistry, (e.g. properties, reaction, structure, sequences).
- citation indexes
- review publications (journals, book series)
- Electronic versions of print sources often exist and some sources are available
only electronically (online, CD-ROM, Internet, or via online catalogs in academe).
For the most important sources, students should learn: subject coverage, indexing policies, sources covered, information provided, time period covered, style policies (abbreviations, etc.), as well as questions that can and cannot be answered by a specific source. This knowledge is essential even when easy-to-use electronic search options are available. Students should learn to search these important sources in an efficient way. With this understanding, students learn to evaluate sources to select the best sources to answer specific questions, e.g., best sources for chemical reaction or physical properties information.
- Basic search skills that all undergraduates should learn to:
- locate background material: review articles/encyclopedia articles
- compile a list of publications by an author
- know the value of and can use a citation index
- can find information on:
- subjects (in Chemical Abstracts and other indexes, e.g. General Science Index, Biological Abstracts, Physical Abstracts, Medline)
- properties (spectra, chemical, physical, and toxicological/safety, etc.)
- compound preparation
- are aware that reaction databases exist and, in the near future, will know how to use them.
- are aware of the power of structure searches and, in the near future, know how to conduct structure searches.
- are aware of patents: understand their importance, their organization, and how to locate chemical patents.
- Techniques for using electronic sources:
- know electronic searching techniques, such as Boolean search logic (AND, OR, NOT), choosing relevant search terms (including synonyms, abbreviations, codes).
- know special searching techniques unique to retrieving chemical information, e.g. name segments, molecular formula, structure and reaction queries.
- Basic skills for graduate students/advanced undergraduates. Students at these levels should learn to review the literature before starting any project and should develop good information habits, such as monitoring the current literature. Students should take advantage of sources on the Internet: preprings, sequence databases, listservs, etc.
Graduate students and advanced undergraduates
In addition to the basic skills acquired during undergraduate years, these students should acquire additional skills so they can:
- Complete a comprehensive subject search using a variety of sources — e.g. physical chemists should be able to use INSPEC as well as CA.
- Complete a comprehensive search for information about a compound.
- Conduct reaction searches.
- Conduct structure searches.
- Monitor current literature to stay up-to-date on a topic.
- Evaluate sources to select those most suitable to answer a specific question.