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CHEM 220 Organic Chemistry

Introduction to using the organic chemistry literature

Types of Chemical Information

Information about chemical substances may be found in a wide variety of publications and on many kinds of websites.  These sources of information vary in quality, reliability, depth, and level of technicality.  The following are just some of the ways chemical information and research data are disseminated.  You can also learn more about how scientists communicate about their research and get advice on writing and presentation of science in The ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.


Popular literature

Popular literature is generally non-technical and intended for general readers and consumers.  Magazines covering consumer health, popular science, or general news may contain articles about chemical substances, including drugs. Research data and analysis are generally not detailed in these types of publications, nor will you find many references to the research literature. Here are some tips for finding popular literature articles using library resources.

Browsing popular science or consumer health magazines and news sources can be interesting, if  you are not looking for very specific information.  Some titles you might want to check out:

Information Websites

Websites with information on drug substances are numerous.  Quality and authority of information on these sites varies widely.  To find more reliable results, consider these suggestions.

  • Look for government sponsored sites like or
  • There are some excellent consumer health sites out there, but you need to be aware that the quality can vary greatly.  One source that has good consumer level information about commonly prescribed drugs is Mayo Clinic's
  • Compare various sites to see where the information differs among them.

For more technical chemical information, there are some good choices for websites.   However, you should always check the information you find at an informational website against one or more reliable sources, such as handbooks or desk references.  Here are some suggestions for starting points when looking for data and other information about chemical substances.

  • Wikipedia (check out the entry on atorvastatin) often gets a bad rap, but there is a dedicated community of chemists who maintain information on chemical substances and topics.
  • Web databases like ChemSpider and PubChem can be good sources of information

Peer-reviewed Literature

"Peer review" is a process an editor of a journal uses to help judge the quality, validity and originality of the research reported in a journal article.  Scientists write an article manuscript, which is submitted to a journal.  The editor of the journal sends it to two or more of the author's peers (other scientists) to review.  The reviewers recommend whether or not the article should be published.

You can easily tell whether an article has been peer reviewed in one of two ways:

  • Go to the journal website and look for a link to information for authors, instructions for authors, submitting an article, editorial policies, or something similar.  There should be a section describing what the peer review process is.  As an example, here is a statement from ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters from the Author Guidelines document: "The Editors evaluate submitted manuscripts, and only those judged to fall within the scope of the journal and to be of potential interest to our readers are sent to two or more reviewers for evaluation."
  • Use a database to identify peer reviewed articles.  For example, using ArticlesPlus there is an option to check a box to limit results to "Peer Reviewed."
  • Most (but not all) of the articles covered by chemistry databases like SciFinder and Reaxys are peer reviewed.  Double check the journal website if you are not familiar with the title.

Handbooks and Desk References

Review articles

A review article is an article that summarizes the current state of research on and understanding of a particular topic using the previously published studies found in the literature.  Review articles help readers identify the main people working in a field, major advances and discoveries, and current debates and ideas about where the research might go next.   There are journals that specialize in review articles, e.g., Chemical Reviews.  Here are some tips on finding a review article:

  • Use a database and limit your search results to review articles. It's easy to do this in SciFinder -- search your topic, get references and then use the Analyze feature to analyze by Document Type (use the drop down menu).  Select General Review or Review
  • Some publishers' websites have limits and filters to help you identify review articles.  Search for a topic and then use the Article Type filter and select Review Article