Information Competencies for Chemistry Undergraduates/Chemical Literature

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Section 2. Chemical Literature[edit | edit source]

Throughout their course and laboratory work, chemistry undergraduates need to obtain various types of chemical literature using the resources available at their campus library. This section assumes students understand the nature and purpose of different types of scientific literature; are able to read and interpret citations from the scientific literature; or can ask a librarian for help in these areas. Students need to develop an understanding of the unique features of chemical literature. This section lists expected skills and recommended resources for finding background information, articles, and other types of chemical literature including patents and for locating information on chemical substances, reactions, and syntheses.


Chemistry undergraduates should know how to find chemistry-specific sources of background information such as encyclopedias, treatises, compiled works, and review articles. Students should be able to use these resources as a starting point for gathering information, by using them to obtain an introduction or overview for an unfamiliar topic, and taking advantage of the extensive bibliographies many of these resources provide. Students should also be able to identify additional resources for background information by asking a librarian for assistance, browsing their library’s reference area, and/or consulting online subject guides available at their library.

Recommended resources:
Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology (also online) $$
Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry (also online) $$
Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary (also online; also available from Knovel) $$
Review articles (additional resources listed in Section 2.2)
Annual Reviews in Analytical Chemistry (also online) $$
Annual Reviews in Biochemistry (also online) $$
Annual Reviews in Physical Chemistry (also online) $$
Annual Reviews, other titles as appropriate $$
Accounts of Chemical Research [American Chemical Society journal] (also online) $$
Chemical Reviews [American Chemical Society journal] (also online) $$
Chemical Society Reviews [Royal Society of Chemistry journal] (also online) $$


To identify and obtain various types of scientific literature (including journal articles, communications, reviews, magazine articles, patents, proceedings, dissertations, monographs, handbooks, encyclopedias and dictionaries, grey literature and technical reports), chemistry students should be able to use the resources listed below as available on their campus.

  1. Students should be able to demonstrate the following skills.
    • Understand the content and organization of the print and online versions of a database.
    • Search for literature using searches as appropriate for each database, for example search by author, topic, chemical (name, CAS RN, structure, formula), and reaction.
    • Refine/limit literature searches (by topic, author, year, document type, language, etc).
    • Refine/limit substance/reaction searches (by structure, yield, steps, classification, etc.).
    • Understand what a cited/citing reference search is, why it is useful, and how to do it.
    Recommended resources:
    SciFinder, web version info/ Chemical Abstracts info $$
    SciFinder Content; CAS Content At A Glance
    Web of Science / Science Citation Index $$
    Scopus info $$
  2. Undergraduate students should also be able to identify and use other chemistry related online article databases or print equivalents available at their institution.
    Recommended resources:
    BIOSIS / Biological Abstracts $$
    Compendex / Engineering Index info $$
    INSPEC info $$
  3. Students should be able to find full journal titles given an abbreviation by using tools such as CASSI (Chemical Abstracts Service Source Index), article indexes, or library catalogs.
    Recommended resources:
    CAS Source Index (CASSI) Search Tool
    Beyond CASSI
    CAplus Core Journal Coverage List


Chemistry students should be able to locate patents, by patent number or topic, and ask a librarian for additional help if needed, e.g. to identify different types or parts of a patent.

Recommended resources:
European Patent Office Database (Espacenet)
Worldwide coverage of patents, including U.S.
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database
Reaxys $$
SciFinder, web version / Chemical Abstracts $$
CAS Patent Coverage
McLeland, Le-Nhung, ed. What Every Chemist Should Know about Patents. ACS Joint Board–Council Committee on Patents and Related Matters. SubCommittee on Education. 3rd ed. 2002.
2006 Supplement


In addition to understanding the scope and nature of scientific literature, chemistry undergraduates should have an understanding of the unique features of chemical literature, and be able to use these unique features to find needed information. This includes being able to perform the tasks below.

  1. Understand the various systems used to classify and identify chemical information, know why they are important, and how to use them to find chemical information. This includes: Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Numbers (CAS RN), Hill system order, chemical nomenclature, and other systems as appropriate to specialized areas of chemistry (e.g., Enzyme Commission (EC) Numbers).
  2. Know how to search for chemical structures and which databases provide structure searching. Be able to use reactions to find and communicate chemical information.
    Recommended resources:
    ChemID Plus
    Combined Chemical Dictionary (CCD), available in CHEMnetBASE $$
    Organic Syntheses (also available online from Wiley $$)
    Merck Index Online $$
    Properties of Organic Compounds, available in CHEMnetBASE $$
    Reaxys (also for reaction searching) $$
    SciFinder, web version (also for reaction searching) $$
    Marvin Suite; software for drawing structures
  3. Locate syntheses for compounds of interest using the resources below: Students should be familiar with searching by structure, name, and other chemical identifiers (reactant, product, etc).
    Recommended resources:
    Reaxys / Beilstein info and Gmelin info, selected content available online through Reaxys $$
    SciFinder, web version / Chemical Abstracts $$
    Organic Syntheses (also available in print and online from Wiley $$)
    Inorganic Syntheses (also online) $$
    Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis (also online) $$
    Fieser and Fieser's Reagents for Organic Synthesis (also online) $$