Types of Indexes

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The basic types of indexes: general and specialized, and electronic vs. print indexes.

Just as there are basically two types of periodicals, see "Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals", there are also two types of indexes: general and specialized.

General indexes cover a broad variety of topics and may index popular magazines, newspapers, and some scholarly journals. Specialized indexes cover a specific topic or discipline and will usually index more scholarly journals.

General Indexes

General indexes are a good place to start if your topic is popular, current, or if you only need basic information. One drawback of general indexes is that due to the nature of the magazines they include, you may find some less reliable and less informational articles, see "Evaluating Citations."

Listed below are a few of the general indexes which are available to you:

Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (via EBSCOhost)
This was the standard periodical index for many years. It is available in print form and has been indexing journals since 1900. It can usually be found in the reference or index section of the library. An electronic version is also available, but coverage starts in 1983. It can be accessed through the Databases by Title page and clicking on Readers' Guide Abstracts.

EBSCOhost (via Digital Pipeline)
A "one-stop online reference system accessible via the Internet." EBSCOhost includes many individual databases which focus on topics like business, kids' interests, newspapers, academic research, health, and current events. Coverage ranges from general to academic levels, and the full-text of journal articles is included. Access EbscoHost from the SLED homepage by clicking "Magazines, Newspapers, and More: Full Text Articles for Alaskans" or through the Rasmuson Library and clicking "Alaska resources via SLED".

Article1st (via OCLC FirstSearch)
Article1st is an OCLC index of articles from the contents pages of journals. It can be accessed through the Databases by Title.

ECO (Electronic Collections Online) - (via OCLC FirstSearch)
Access abstracts and full-text articles in more than 5,400 publications covering a wide range of subjects. It can be accessed through the Databases by Title.

Specialized Indexes

Specialized indexes are good to use if you need more informational or technical articles, or if you cannot find the type of information you need in general indexes. The articles you find are generally more reliable because these indexes tend to include more scholarly journals.

There is a specialized index in every discipline and on almost any topic you can imagine. Some are broad like the Social Science Abstracts which provides indexing for core periodicals in anthropology, economics, geography, law and criminology, political science, social work, sociology, and international relations. Others are more narrow like ERIC which covers educational information. And some get as specific as the Child Abuse and Neglect index. To discover the whole range of indexes which are available to you go to the Resources by Subject page and read through all the databases and their descriptions.

Electronic vs. Print Indexes

Electronic indexes have many advantages over their print counterparts:

  • You can do keyword, author, and title searching. Print indexes will have subject searching and sometimes author and title searching.
  • You can search more than one year of the index at a time.
  • Full-text is often available, or at the very least an abstract.
  • Parts of the citations are labeled and not abbreviated. Print indexes do not label the parts and often abbreviate to save space.

But, there are times when it is more appropriate to use a print index:

  • A computerized form may not exist for what you need. For example, many newspapers, if they are indexed at all, will only have a print index available.
  • Many indexes did not become computerized until the 1980's. So if your topic deals with an event which occurred prior to that time you may need to use a print index. Also, many indexes will cover only the current 5 years which means that as 2001 articles are added, 1996 articles are dropped.
  • If your topic is historical, even if there is plenty of information available in electronic indexes, finding articles written about the event as it was occurring will give you an entirely different perspective. For example, if you were researching about Martin Luther King, Jr., you would find plenty of current articles in electronic indexes which would explain that he was a great civil rights leader and speaker. But if you were to look in the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature during the years that he was actively speaking, you would find articles which praised him as well as articles which criticized him. Regardless of which side you agree with, it is always best to read information from different perspectives when doing research.
This page was last modified on July 12, 2012