JSTOR has over 2,000 journals in more than 50 disciplines, spanning from the 1600's to now. That's not even counting books and pamphlets. So. Where do you start when you want to look for something? Especially if you're not 100% sure what you're looking for?
Before you go down any farther down the search hole, we encourage you to TALK TO YOUR REFERENCE LIBRARIAN. If you've never done high-level research, or are unsure about how to best construct a search query, the librarian(s) at your university are there to help. If you aren't a student, try your public library. The average librarian spent years getting a degree to help you and people like you. They are, in a very literal sense, there for you. We're a little perplexed if you can talk to a librarian and just, well, decide to wing it.
That doesn't mean we can't help you with JSTOR specific stuff. Let's orientate ourselves with the search options on the JSTOR site.
Option One: Basic Search
When you visit www.jstor.org you'll likely see basic search first. It's the box in the middle of the landing page with the phrase "Journals, primary sources and now BOOKS" written above it. You can put in phrases, keywords, authors or titles without any special formatting. This will give you a broader list of results that will, at least, allow you to peruse some options. If you're a more advanced searcher, you can put Boolean commands directly into the search bar. It's important to note that there is a 200 character limit (this includes spaces).
Option Two: Advanced Search
You can get to advanced search from the JSTOR landing page by clicking on the 'advanced search' link beneath basic search. You can also hover over the search option in the upper left hand corner of the screen (it's the option to the right of "JSTOR Home").
Once you're on the advanced search page, you can limit your search by:
searching ONLY abstracts
key words within full-text (a.k.a all the content ever)
type of content (articles, books, pamphlets, reviews, everything else)
discipline or journal
searching ONLY the content that your school/library subscribes to
Please note that you will not be able to search without text in the first two fields. If you only chose a journal to narrow your search, for example, you will get an error that says, "We could not complete your search because nothing has been entered in the search form. Please try again."
It is also worth noting that the character limit on advanced search is 250 characters (including spaces).
To find the articles/chapters/pamphlets you can actually download and read, you can limit your search to content you can access. Go to the Advanced Search page and find "Select an access type." You'll see the following options:
All Content: All the things on JSTOR.
Read and download: Content you can download or read online. This will include Early Journal Content and journals/books publishers have set to free.
JPASS subscription content: Content you can read and download if you have a JPASS.
Just pick an option after you've developed your search and find the stuff more relevant to your needs. You can also narrow your search results after you've done an initial search. You can find that option beneath the 'access level' checkbox, at the bottom on the left hand side of the page.
Now, you need never know the frustration of finding a great article and being unable to read it. Woohoo.
You need an article from a journal. Or a chapter from a book. Or a specific pamphlet. Rather than search for the journal by title in advanced search and get ALL the things, there's an easy way to find exactly what you need.
We know. We're excited too.
First, go to the top of any JSTOR page. You'll see the "browse" menu in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Choose the second option, "By title." It will take you to a table that lists everything we have alphabetically. On this table there are four tabs: All Content, Journals, Books and Pamphlet. Choose the tab for the type of source you want.
Once you have the correct letter and content tab, you'll see a list of titles. Once you see your title in the list, follow the link to the appropriate page. On a journals' page, you should see a list of volumes or issues by year. If you're looking for a book, the link in "browse by title" will take you to its table of contents. For pamphlets, the link will take you to the appropriate collection. From the pamphlet collection page, you'll be able to search further.
You may also notice the access icons to the left of each title. A circle with an X means you don't have access to a title. A half-filled circle means you have partial access to a title (possibly only older issues, the most current issues or issues that the publisher has made free). No icon at all means you have full access. Before you try reading anything, make sure you're logged in.
There is undeniably a fine art to searching a database like JSTOR. Advanced researchers can spend huge amounts of time crafting very exact queries designed to find those few special sources that they need to move forward with their work. The JSTOR search team recognizes these users, and salutes their efforts to advance human knowledge. However, we also know that a lot of our users are new to the wonderful world of academia and have limited search experience. It can be frustrating to transition from Google’s magical algorithm when you try a search like this and get over 4,000 results:
Here in the JSTOR Support team, we totally get it. Sometimes you just really need to catch up on the scholarly discourse regarding an iconic 90s girl band, but sifting through 4,000 articles seems excessive. Well today’s your lucky day, friends, because with just one search tip we can significantly improve the relevance of our results and make for a much more enjoyable Friday evening reading experience.
Putting our search terms in quotation marks cut down our results down to a much more manageable 400! We call this exact phrase searching, and it is the best tool we can offer new JSTOR users to improve their search experience. When you don’t put quotation marks around a phrase, as in the first example, our search engine searches for the words separately (spice AND girls). When we add quotation marks, our search engine knows to look for “spice girls” in that exact order, and will not return results about cinnamon or oregano.
Searching for exact authors:
If you're looking for a particular author's body of work, you'll need to use the handy drop-down menu in our advanced search. First, go to the search menu in the upper right hand corner of any JSTOR page and click "Advanced Search."
From there, type your author's name in the first search box and choose "Author" in the drop down menu to the immediate right.
Be sure NOT to put the author's name in quotations and ALSO choose the "Author" field in the drop down menu. That will get you a bunch of additional stuff.
So you want to make your search narrower, sleeker, more exact: a beautiful panther among searches. Rather than comb every inch of the website for a search term, you can narrow it to certain fields.
Say you're looking for anything on JSTOR written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you search for "F. Scott Fitzgerald" you'll get EVERY instance of the phrase F. Scott Fitzgerald.
If you search for F. Scott Fitzgerald in the author field, you'll find the stuff he wrote specifically.
There are several basic fields on the top half of advanced search. To the right of the first two search bars, you'll see a list.
Full-Text searches EVERYTHING in the archive. Author limits your search to the name of an author. Item Title limits your search to titles (of books and journal/pamphlet articles) on JSTOR. Abstract searches for your terms in abstracts ONLY. Caption will search for your phrase in the captions beneath photos (this is especially relevant in art journals should you, say, be looking for a specific painting).
But wait, there are even MORE fields.
You can keep narrowing your search by item type (Articles, Books, Pamphlets, Reviews and everything else), date range, language, publication (aka a specific journal, book or pamphlet) title, ISBN (for books) AND discipline. Please note that before you can use this section, you'll need to have search term(s) typed in the first and/or second search bar on the page.
If this feels really basic, you can bypass Advanced Search altogether and just enter your own field codes on basic search.
The format looks like this: (FIELD CODE: "Search term")
So, in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald our search would be: ( au:"F. Scott Fitzgerald") Here are some other codes that might come in handy:
au: = author
ti: = title
ca: = caption
ab: = abstract
If you want to get even more complicated, you can add narrowing layers with the codes below. Say you wanted to find a review of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels. Your search might look like: (au:"F. Scott Fitzgerald") (ty:brv)
There comes a time in the life of every researcher when they hit a wall in their efforts to find relevant content. Your academic quiver might be full of exact phrases and fielded searching, but you just can’t seem to get to the good stuff that will help you advance your argument or support your esoteric assertions. If you find yourself in this common plight, you really can’t go wrong by reaching out to a librarian AKA the gatekeepers of knowledge.
However, with a little practice you can also employ a librarian’s secret weapon yourself with a minimum of fuss. The weapon is Boolean Searching and it is mainly comprised of three parts, just like Charlie’s Angels, or the Deathly Hallows.
These parts are called Boolean Operators and they are as follows: AND, OR, and NOT. Boolean operators are used to connect your search terms, and can be used to either narrow or broaden your search results. Let’s take a look at how they work.
This is the default Boolean operator, and using it will narrow your search results by telling the search engine to return results that have BOTH/ALL search terms present.
When we search JSTOR for scholarly content about unicorns, we get a very large set of results.
Suppose a scholar is specifically researching the claim that unicorns appear to maidens. In that case, refining this set of results by adding the term “maiden” will decrease the number of results they have to sift through to find that perfect article.
All 119 results will include both the term “unicorns” and the term “maidens.” Thanks, Boolean operator AND!
Using this Boolean operator will expand your search results by telling the search engine to return results that have EITHER/ANY of the search terms present.
This same unicorn researcher did not find exactly what they were looking for just by using the AND operator. One strategy that a librarian would employ in such a case is to use the OR operator to link synonym keywords together and expand the search results.
This unicorn researcher now has a slightly expanded list of results to peruse. Even for researchers in non-unicorn disciplines, the OR operator is a great chance to use all the jargon your heart desires. If a term is a synonym, throw it in your query and see what happens!
An important note here about using parentheses: When your search query includes multiple Boolean operators, it is important to group them appropriately. In the example above, (maiden OR virgin) is grouped together by parentheses, making it a sub-query. By grouping the terms this way, you are telling the search engine what terms must be present and what terms are optional. This eliminates any confusion and ensures that unicorns must exist and that either term maidens or virgins may exist.
Using this Boolean operator will narrow your search results by telling the search engine to exclude results that have a particular search term present.
Our brave researcher is just plain tired of trying to find relevant results for his thesis and coming across close-minded papers claiming that unicorns are mythical creatures. In this scenario, he can employ the NOT operator to exclude this nonsense from his search results.
This set of results is smaller than the previous one, and no longer includes any content with that offensive word “myth.” Finally our researcher finds the right content for his thesis and can get back to his field work, and it’s all thanks to Boolean searching!
The beauty of Boolean searching is that these operators can be mixed and matched in any number of ways in an attempt to drill down and find that paper you didn’t even know you needed. They are also filters you can employ as part of your living, breathing searching habits. If you see that a set of search results has a specific vein of noise, you can adjust your query with the NOT operator. If you just learned a synonym for one of your keywords, you can expand your results with the OR operator. Boolean logic also plays nicely with the other tools in your research arsenal, like exact phrase and fielded searching. The research possibilities are endless.
So let’s take a moment to appreciate George Boole, the man behind the logic that makes targeted searching such a breeze for folks in the know:
When all else fails, always ask a librarian for help! They are trained Boolean ninjas, but totally don’t be scared of them! They are awesome and love to help.
As a reward for sticking with us you get to look at a puppy dressed up like the Little Mermaid.
You can find words with spellings similar to your search term by using the tilde (~) symbol at the end of a search term.
In the example above, search results include items with dostoyevsky in the item title field, as well as variant spellings such as dostoevsky, dostoievski, dostoevsky, dostoyevski, dostoevskii, dostoevski, etc.
Note: This way of searching encompasses a very large number of words. Narrowing this kind of search to the item title or another field is recommended. The first letter always remains the same.
Wildcard: not just a description of your weird uncle
Wildcards take the place of one or more characters in a search term. A question mark (?) is used for single character searching. An asterisk (*) is used for multiple character searching.
Wildcards are used to search for alternate spellings and variations on a root word. Wildcard characters cannot be used in place of the first letter of a word or within an exact phrase search, and word roots must contain at least three letters preceding a wildcard. For example:
The query wom?n finds the words woman, women, womyn, etc
The query bird* finds bird, birding, birdman, birds, and other words that start with bird
The query organi?ation finds organization or organisation
The query behavior* finds the words behavior, behavioral, behaviorist, behaviorism, behaviorally, etc
You can combine search terms containing wild cards (wom?n AND "science education") and they may be used in a field search: au:sm?th or ti:shakespeare*
You're writing a paper about vampires and through your amazing research skills have stumbled upon the perfect article on JSTOR. This article is sure to put the finishing touch on your essay. But, wait, what’s this? The download button has a price next to it!
Before you set your computer on fire ask yourself this question: am I a member of an institution that participates in JSTOR?
How can I tell if I'm logged in?
On the right side of your screen you should see a designation statement that tells you if you are logged into JSTOR through an institution (it's in a box labelled 'Access'). You can learn all about this statement and how it works on our "How to see if you're really logged into JSTOR" page.
If you are, or think you might be, a student at a participating institution but you aren’t currently signed in, you likely need to sign in through your institution before downloading the article. You can learn about logging into your institution in our "Student and Affliated User" section.
Once you are logged in, you'll see the “Download PDF” button. Clicking it will immediately open our Terms and Conditions window. You will need to click on "I agree" to get your PDF.
I clicked the 'Download PDF' button but nothing's happening!
The PDF document should open in a new window automatically. Once it has opened, you should be able to select the print icon in the upper left hand side of the page. If your PDF doesn't open, try right clicking on the "Download PDF button" and either:
saving it to your desktop by choosing "save target as"
You may also need the most recent version of Adobe Reader to download documents. This software is available for free on Adobe's website.
But I logged In and the download button still doesn't work!
What happens if you're logged into your institution and the download button is still inactive? Don’t worry!
If you’ve logged in through your institution, but the download button is unavailable, this likely means that, while your institution does have access to JSTOR, it doesn't have access to the article you want. Different institutions subscribe to different parts of JSTOR and not every institution has access to everything.
So I've logged in, I can't download my PDF, but I still want knowledge!
If you are not a member of an institution or if your institution does not have access to the article you want, you have a few options. Look at the blue buttons to the right hand side of the article:
If there's a that button says “Download” and lists a price in parentheis, you may download the article for the price listed.