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A-Z of Library Terms

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An abstract is a summary of a journal article. On the basis of an abstract, you can decide if the article is worth reading in full.



Acronyms are words made up from initials, e.g. NHS. When searching for information about these organisations make sure you don’t miss anything by using ‘OR’ and the unabbreviated version. For example, search for ‘NHS or National Health Service'.



A catalogue is similar to an index and a database, but in this case specifically related to materials held in libraries. Search the catalogue for information on whether we have a particular resource, and find out how to access it, either by noting the call number or clicking on the link to see online material.



Your citation is in the body of your writing, and is the method you use to acknowledge the ideas or work of others in your dissertation. When using the Harvard system of referencing, this is usually the author’s surname and the year of publication, however different referencing styles may have different requirements. Always check your course handbook for what system you should be using.



A database is a collection of items that can be searched at the same time. A database can hold many different formats – a database can be a collection of images, articles or even words and their definitions (e.g. an online dictionary). Databases can link to the full text or to an abstract.

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Full text

The full text version is the whole version of a document. Not all databases link to the full text version, so you may have to do some extra work to find the full text.



An index is a listing of articles in a database relevant to your search. Depending on the type of database, you might just be able to get the abstract about an article, but not the full text of the article itself. You also find indexes at the back of books. Scanning the index for your subject terms is a quick way of finding the information you need within the book without having to read the whole thing.



Journals are publications that are regularly published on specific topics or areas of research. They communicate the latest research and thinking and are intended for a scholarly and academic audience. Good quality academic journals are peer reviewed. The individual papers in a journal are called articles.

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Peer reviewed

Before articles are published, they are usually scrutinised by other experts. This process is known as peer review and ensures that the information is of good quality.



Plagiarism is where you use the ideas, words, theories or work of someone else in your own work without acknowledging them. This can happen intentionally (by cutting and pasting from an article) or unintentionally (poor referencing, for example). The university takes the issue of plagiarism seriously and has measures in place to detect it.



A reference contains all the details about the source you have cited, with enough information so that your reader can locate the resource. Typically it includes the author, year of publication, title, place and publisher of the material. There are set conventions on how to present your references depending on the style that you use. References are gathered together at the end of your work in a reference list.


Reference list

Your reference list comes at the end of your work. When using the Harvard referencing, this is an alphabetical list of all the resources you have cited in your work. Your reference list is compulsory in your work.

Referencing and citing

It is important that you cite and reference all the sources of information you use in your work. This is not only a sign of good academic practice and good writing, but will also help you avoid plagiarism which is a serious issue at university. There are lots of difference styles of referencing. One of the most common is Harvard style, although Vancouver style is also used at St George's.

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Search engine

You use a search engine to search for information on the World Wide Web. Each search engine works differently; many send ‘spiders’ that ‘crawl’ pages following the links (usually the main pages of a site) and indexing the keywords they find. They only search a fraction of what is available on the Internet, so you may have to try different keywords and searches, or go to a website and search it directly.


Table of contents

Scanning the table of contents at the start of a book is a very quick way of deciding if it is worth reading as it gives you a list of all the topics covered. Table of Contents alerts (ToCs) are a great way of keeping up to date with your favourite journals. You can usually sign up to these for free from databases and journal websites, which means that the contents of new issues will then be emailed to you.



Websites are webpages that are available online. Websites can be created by anyone, so always look for clues about who has produced it. They can be quickly updated (news websites are updated by the minute) and can contain a lot of useful information in all sorts of different formats. Be careful to evaluate the information you find in a website.


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Information adapted from © Library @ City University London with permission.