Wednesday 11 March 2009

Keeping up to date with your subject

Isn't it nice when something you want is brought to you, so that you don't have to go out yourself to fetch it?

If we apply that thought to research, it is possible to individually visit the websites of a wide range of journals - and to browse the printed copies the library holds - in order to try and keep up-to-date with your field. But it would be a monotonous job that could take up all your time if you want to monitor a lot of titles.

This is where alerting services come in - the equivalent of someone bringing things to you once you tell them what you want, thereby freeing up your time to actually read and evaluate articles then incorporate them into your research.

Google Alerts

Although not designed as an academic tool, Google Alerts provides a good example of a popular alerting service which enables you to receive updates via email or RSS feed on a topic that interests you. You enter the keywords you are interested in and choose whether you want updates daily, weekly - or immediately. Google Alerts is ideal for monitoring developing news stories.

Tip: Add UK as a keyword if you want to try and limit the results to those most relevant to the UK (it is not perfect but works fairly well).


This is a powerful alerting tool for researchers. It contains the electronic table of contents of over 20,000 journals and around 16,000 conference proceedings, from 1993 to the present date, and it is updated on a daily basis.

Zetoc is free for those in supported educational institutions such as Aberystwyth University - login by selecting Aberystwyth University and entering your Aberystwyth username and password.

You can then easily set up email alerts based on your selected keywords, authors, or journal titles, so that you can keep up-to-date with new articles and papers of relevance to you. Alerts are easy to edit should you wish to add more titles or change the keywords. Zetoc also provides RSS feeds for many journals.

Many Zetoc records now include abstracts.


This is a new service, and like Zetoc it lets you view the table of contents and find the RSS feeds for scholarly journals (in this case over 12,000 titles - so it has a smaller database than Zetoc).

You can search the table of contents RSS feeds by title, subject or publisher. At present there is no browse facility i.e. you have to type in what you are interested in, you can't browse and explore all of the headings.

You need to create an account if you want ticTOCs to remember the titles you are interested in, but if you just want to find the RSS feed for a particular title to add to your favourite feedreader (e.g. Netvibes or Bloglines) then you can easily do that without an account.

Try them out!

Zetoc and ticTOCs both help you to keep up-to-date in your field. Try them out and stick with whichever service you prefer - or use both, since although there is some overlap of content, each service does include content that is not contained in the other.

If you want to find out more, contact your subject librarian.

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