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Physics 498: Scholarly Communication in Physics: The Literature of Physics

The LIterature of Physics

90% of the papers that get published do not prove to be of permanent value.  Students and others unfamiliar with the field are guided to the truly significant works through review articles, monographs, or textbooks.  They bring together the results of primary research papers and present a unified account of the progress in the solution of some particular scientific problem.

The Literatrure of Physcis includes:

Primary publications contain the work of contemporary scholars who are contributing to the advancement of their subject.

Secondary resources are not original in content yet are important.  These are mainly indexes, abstracts, monographic series of reviews and advances, textbooks, and encyclopedias, dictionaries, or handbooks.

Monographs (Books or in series) are selective summaries that rarely contain the latest information in a field.  They can be several years behind current practice at publication.

Serials (or Periodicals or Journals) are publications that appear in a continuing series of issues, usually at regular intervals, under the same distinctive title.  Periodicals or Journals contain the latest work in a given field and cover topics too small to warrant book treatment.

Reviews or Review Articles synthesize important research into a connected account of scientific progress.  They assist the physicist to assimilate material relevant to her subject field.  Specialized reviewing series often have the works "Advances", "Progress", or "Annual Reviews" leading their titles.  Two important journals containing review articles are Reviews in Modern Physics and Reports on Progress in Physics.  The American Journal of Physics features readable and informative review articles.

Letters Journals rapidly publish very brief reports of outstanding and essentially revolutionary new discoveries.  They also serve as a medium for the publication of short communications, not necesarily of great significance, but sufficiently self-contained to be useful to specialists in the field.  There is presssure to get into print quickly and sometimes clarity and completeness of proofs suffer in these articles.

Conference Papers/Proceedings are shortened, sometimes inferior, versions of work that is about to be or has been published elsewhere.  They also may contain invited papers which typically give a review of the current situation but can be biased by the personal opinion of the writer.

Dissertations/Theses are long works describing in great detail a research project carried out by the author as a requirement for the Ph.D. or Masters degree.

Popular Literature in physics includes journals like Scientific American or trade books written for the generally-educated public.  These works are valuable to anyone who wants a general picture of the present state of some distant branch of their own subject, or who would like to know, in simple terms, about a new discovery.

Indexes and Abstracts are research databases that allow the physicist to find articles or books of interest that would otherwise remain unknnown to him.  Indexing and abstracting services provide access to the bibliographic information and abstracts of papers and other forms of literature through relational databases.

Reports, usually government documents, are sometimes called Ephemera or Grey literature.  In the US alone, the NTIS, NASA, and DOE release 70,000 documents annually.  Epherera or Grey literature is any material not available through regular channels.  Examples include report literature, technical notes and specifications, some conference proceedings and preprints, translations, official publications, supplementary publications and data, trade literature, etc.  Grey literature may have poor print quality and layouts, have missing or incomplete bibliographic information, and are published in limited print runs or are included in web sites.

Preprints are early copies of papers that report recent findings.  They are published informally through online archives or personal distribution.  These works may exist in several different versions as it is not unusual for authors to revise or update these papers.  They have not undergone peer review though many may be put out as preprints by the author while undergoing peer review and subsequent publication in a journal.

Patents are legal documents filed with a government's patent and trade office to protect the financial value of proprietary information.  Full disclosure of materials, methods, and claims are made in patents.  Patents may contain significant scientific information.