Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Information Literacy Concepts : A Glossary of Terms

Contact Me

A Glossary of Terms

A Glossary of Terms

Boolean operators

A method of searching created by mathematician George Boole that uses the terms AND, OR, and NOT to broaden or narrow a search. Key-words or controlled vocabulary subject terms are combined using these three “operators.”

For instance, AND allows two different but related terms to be searched, which narrows down your search to be more specific. An example would be PTSD AND soldiers, which would search all of the literature first on PTSD, but then limit to only the articles that were written about soldiers with PTSD.

The operator OR allows you to search two like terms and have the results of both searches appear on the same page.  An example of using OR would be to search for PTSD OR Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which would return results that used either of the two forms of the term. NOT excludes certain terms from being included in a search. In the same vein as the other example searches, you may be interested in finding out only about soldiers in the Army, but not other branches of military service. A search with not could be PTSD AND soldiers NOT Navy.


An online tool in libraries that is usually used to find items housed physically in the library. Some libraries also list their eBooks and other electronic items in this search interface. You will not be able to search for journal articles by subject or title in the catalog.


A reference to where you found a specific piece of information or opinion that you have used in your paper. Citations will be found in a references list, bibliography, footnotes, or works cited page and follows a specific format, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago Style. In-text citations are used to mark the specific information that you are citing. Citing is important to give authors credit for their work and prevents you from plagiarizing. Another reason it is important to cite is to situate your work within the scholarly conversation happening on a topic.

Controlled vocabulary

Refers to the way that articles or abstracts are organized in a database by a set lexicon of terms that are defined by the creators. Seasoned researchers will take their keywords from their research topic and look them up in the thesaurus of the database to find out which terms the database vendor has used to tag the concept being researched. You may also find related terms in the thesaurus that you had not previously thought of. Some thesauri allow you to “explode” the topic, which means that all related terms will be searched at once. In the U.S., the most common controlled vocabulary is the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Discovery services

An online tool in libraries that searches multiple databases and the library’s catalog at once. A discovery service is normally behind the search box on the front page of the library. Discovery services are great tools for finding a lot of research on a topic quickly, but they may bring back too many results from many different fields of study on a particular topic. Additionally, there will be certain databases that are not included in a discovery service, so it is still important to check the subject-specific data-bases on your topic to make sure that you have not missed any research that may not show up there.


A monograph that appears in electronic format, normally located in a database or on the web. eBooks are normally read online in a browser window or on an e-reader device.

Grey literature

Scholarly writing that appears outside the scope of the normal publishing channels (journals and books), such as reports, dissertations, theses, and conference proceedings. Grey literature is normally created by scholars in the field or graduate students, but it does not undergo the same level of peer re-view as a journal article or scholarly book.

Multidisciplinary database

A broadly scoped database that includes articles from many different fields of study, rather than focusing on one specific academic discipline. A multi-disciplinary database is a good place to start if you are in a general composition class or you are unsure what fields of study are undertaking research on your topic. Many experienced student researchers start in a multidisciplinary database to see what is published on a topic and then move into a subject-specific database that is tailored to their major.

Subject-specific database

A database that is scoped to include only journal articles, book chapters, citations, and sources from one particular academic discipline.

Scholarly or Peer-reviewed Literature

Scholarly literature usually appears in journal articles and books. It is written for an audience of other researchers in the field and it usually builds on the past research of others. The process to get a scholarly article published is rigorous, and includes peer review undertaken by other experts on the topic.

Popular publication

Examples of popular literature are magazines and newspapers. Articles in a popular periodical will be written for the purpose of entertaining or informing a wide audience. You can find examples of popular periodicals on newsstands and in book stores. They are usually written by journalists.

Trade publication

Articles in trade publications are written for an audience of professionals that are already working in the field. They will usually include relevant trends, news, and reports on successful projects that other professionals may want to duplicate on their own.

Journal article

A written work that appears in a periodical that is published on a regular basis, whether that is monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. Journal articles are normally written by scholars, researchers, or experts in a field and they are peer reviewed by other re-searchers in order to ensure accuracy. Articles will usually have a methods section and a bibliography or works cited that situates the current information in the body of previous research on the topic. The writers are normally not paid directly for their contributions, rather, they are publishing on the topic because they are contributing to the formal scholarly conversation on a given topic.


A method of locating library literature in a database that requires you to search using broad, user-defined search terms to find all of the literature on a topic. Keyword searching is the type of library search most closely aligned to the way we naturally speak or write; look for the main ideas of your topic sentence to determine your keywords. Keywords may be separated by Boolean operators.

Magazine article

A written work that appears in a popular periodical that you would find in a bookstore or on a news-stand. These articles are written by professional journalists for a mass market audience and will be written at a lower reading level than a scholarly journal article. The purpose of a magazine article is to inform and often to entertain the reader. There will not be citations in this type of article.


Put most simply, a monograph is a book. A mono-graph is a non-serial publication that is published on a particular topic; in academic libraries, this would normally be published by a special educational publisher or a university press. Different fields of study may publish monographs more than others. For instance, in the hard sciences, you will find fewer monographs published, since the focus is on bringing new research to light more quickly in journals. In a field like History, some professors will be expected to publish in monographic format to gain tenure at their university.

Newspaper article

A brief, article, or description of a current event that appeared in a daily publication. Newspaper articles are written by professional journalists and do not normally contain citations. They are written for the purposes of informing the general public about happenings in the world.


A publication that is regularly released monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.  Individual articles are submitted by researchers for consideration in the journal and then peer reviewed before being accepted to be published. Journals are ranked by something called impact factor, which gauges the level of influence they will have on the field. Impact factor is determined by how many times past articles published in the journal have been cited by other researchers. Many journals are published by academic societies, professional associations, or university presses.

Reference Books

Usually located in a special collection of non-circulating books, reference materials include encyclopedias, dictionaries, and atlases. Most reference works include a summary of information taken to be factual, rather than analysis or new research on a topic. These works are a great place to start your research, as you will discover related terms and accumulate background information on your topic.