How to find journal articles


Articles in peer-reviewed (scholarly) and other types of journals  provide sharply focused information on specific discoveries, research and recent events. 

For background and basic information, and to find keywords, names, and subject terms that will improve your search results, start with reference sources (such as academic encyclopedias and bibliographies).

Library Search

Library Search is the Library's default search engine on the Library home page and includes articles from many journals. 

It is an excellent starting point for most searches.

More advanced techniques for finding journal articles

You can find journal articles by mining the bibliographies of sources you already have, by searching for articles on your topic in the Library's databases, or using search engines, including Google Scholar.

Using bibliographies

Bibliographies, also known as references, works cited or further reading, are lists of sources the author consulted, and are (almost always) found at the end of an academic book, chapter or article, including encyclopedia entries.

Once you have one good resource, check the citations in the bibliography and then use these citations to get more articles

Using journal or article databases

Libraries subscribe to databases that provide access to thousands or millions of articles published in journals. You can search these by subject, keywords, author, or by citation if you already have this information.

Selecting a database

We subscribe to hundreds of databases that cover different subject areas. Because the same search in different databases will give different results, a good search strategy includes using more than one.

How to find the right databases to search?

  • Start with the Library's research or subject guides for your discipline or course. These include recommendations from subject-expert librarians for the best databases and search strategies. 
  • You can also go to SFU Library databases and search by database title or by subject area.

Already have a journal title (or citation)?

You can also browse or search a specific journal title.

  • Search for your journal title in Library Search (the default search box on most Library pages), or:
  • To search for only journal titles, go to the A-Z Journals list (available at the top of every Library Catalogue page)
    • Tip: this strategy is especially useful for very common titles like "Science."

Looking for a Harvard Business Review article, or another article where there is no direct link?

Not all articles are available directly through Library Search or the Library Catalogue. The "drilling down" approach will often turn up articles that can't be retrieved in other ways. 

Drilling down: Searching for a specific article or issue within a journal 

Once you have found your journal, you can often search its contents, or "drill down" to find specific issues. 

If you already know  the article and journal title, along with author information, you can also use your citation to get an article.

Search tips

To improve your searching, use the tips below on defining the topic and identifying concepts, combining terms, truncation, and what to do if you have too few or too many results.

Defining the topic and identifying concepts

Before you start searching, you need to know what you are looking for. One way to define your topic is to write it out as a question you hope to answer in the paper or assignment. For example:

  • What effect does water temperature have on sea urchins?
  • Are left-handed people more intelligent?
  • Are drug-users more likely than non-users to commit robbery?

Next, you need to identify the important concepts included in your question. For example:

  • What effect does water temperature have on sea urchins?
  • Are left-handed people more intelligent?
  • Are drug-users more likely than non-users to commit robbery?

These important concepts provide the terms you will use in your search. Search for the specific words you use in your question plus synonyms, variant spellings and related words from your background reading.

Combining terms

The connectors AND and OR have special meanings in database searching; they allow you to combine terms in two different ways.

The term AND

  • Retrieves records which contain ALL the search terms
  • Use this to find two or more concepts in the same source
  • E.g. water temperature AND sea urchins

The term OR

  • Retrieves records which contain ANY of the search terms
  • Use this to find synonyms, variant spellings or related terms
  • E.g. robber OR theft OR burglary


Truncation or wildcard symbols

Truncation symbols allow you to search for all variations of a word at once, e.g. singular and plural, by searching for all the words beginning with the letters before the symbol.

  • * is the most common truncation symbol
  • E.g. robb* will retrieve robber, robbers, robbery, robberies, robbing, etc.
  • $, ?, ! are other common truncation symbols

Phrase searching

Use quotation marks to search for a phrase rather than individual words, e.g. "water temperature" or "to be or not to be."

Searching in the Library Catalogue? For more advanced search tips, see the Power searching and Boolean searching in the Catalogue Search Guide

Too few sources found?

If you are not finding enough information, broaden your search to find more sources by using these techniques:

  • Truncate your search term to find all variations of a term, e.g. instead of crime search for crim* (retrieves crime, crimes, criminal, criminals, etc.)
  • Search for synonyms and variant spellings of your topic, e.g. work OR labor OR labour
  • Search for broader or more general terms, e.g. instead of British Columbia search for Canada, or the even broader North America

Too many sources found?

If you are finding too much information, limit your search to find fewer sources by including another concept in your search. Often the second concept is what you want to know about the first concept, e.g. reading AND instructional methods.

If you still have too many results then include a third or even fourth concept in your search, e.g. reading AND instructional methods AND adult education.

Evaluate the articles

Some sources of information are more reliable than others. Check your assignment. Your instructor may specify the types of sources you can use, and will expect you to evaluate the articles you have found to determine their relevance and authority.

  • For most research papers, instructors will require students to use scholarly or academic articles.
  • However it may be appropriate to use publications other than academic journals, including blog posts by scholars and reports by associations and government agencies. See Evaluating Resources for more citeria for evaluating sources generally.

Further help

For more help in person or online, Ask a Librarian.