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Keeping up to date with new research: Journal articles and database alerts

New journal articles

Journal articles are an excellent source of recent, peer-reviewed, good quality research and as such are a vital resource to keep up to date with.

Why subscribe to a current awareness service?

There is often a time delay between the point when a new article is published in a journal and it is indexed by one of the database services. Current awareness services will automatically keep you informed of new journal issues and articles on your topic or research interest when new relevant material is made available. Many of the large online research databases provide an automated alerting service.

Before using any current awareness services you should review the literature to establish a clear awareness of the topic that you would like to be kept up-to-date with on a regular basis. In this way you will increase the relevancy of the alerts you receive to your area of research. You can receive automated updates of newly published journal articles via email alert or via RSS Feed. These are outlined below.

Email alerts

There are a number of current awareness services that enable you to receive regular automated email alerts. In order to receive email alerts you will need to 'Register' a personal account with the service. This normally means completing a brief online form supplying your name and email address etc. You can receive email alerts via:

  1. Search alerts e.g. keyword, author, saved search strategy
  2. Table of content (TOC) alerts
  3. Cited reference alerts

Saved keyword search alerts

Saved keyword search alerts

Many databases allow you to:

  • run a search on your topic of interest and save it e.g. keyword, author, search strategy
  • the search will be run automatically at intervals defined by you
  • updates of new articles will then be emailed to you.

The following are examples of large research databases which can be used in this way:

Table of contents TOC alerts

TOC alerts enable you to identify specific journal titles of interest and receive an email copy of the TOC as new issues become available. This can be a useful way of keeping abreast of overall developments and identifying articles of interest. TOC Alerts are provided by most electronic journal publishers.

How do I set up a TOC email alert?

To receive a TOC email alerts you will usually only need to select the journals you are interested in from a list and then supply your email address.


You can browse Wiley Interscience Journals by subject or title.  If you want to sign up to get new contents alerts you first need to creat an account - click on the Login / Register link at the top right of the screen.

Many journal publishers now also offer the facility to receive details of articles in press, ie. articles that have been reviewed and are ready for publication in an upcoming issue.

ZETOC Alerts is a service provided by the British Library spanning all disciplines which allows you to select titles from their list of over 28,000 journals. You can set up email alerts from Zetoc and it is also possible to receive updates via RSS. You can also set up Saved search Alerts. 

Find out more about ZETOC ALERTS at

Watch ZETOC's training videos at



JournalTOCs is a free service and creates TOC alerts by RSS feed. It  searches the Tables Of Contents (TOCs) of the current issues of 20,867 journals that produce TOC RSS feeds. Journals that do not produce TOC RSS feeds are not searched by this service.

Cited reference alerts

Cited Reference Alerts allow you to identify individual journal articles and then receive notification whenever these articles are cited.

Cited Reference Alerts are provided by databases like Web of Science and Scopus. Once you have identified a specific article for which you would like to track citations, select the full view of the record by clicking on the title. Next select the link 'Create Citation Alert'.

See this short tutorial on how to create a citation alert on Web of Knowledge:


Disadvantages of email alerts

“Some users reported that the alerts they themselves had set ‘haunted them’. I have exactly the same feeling, as sometimes it feels like the alerts I have set for myself are self-inflicted spam”

Jonas Holmstrom: Report on 8th European Conference on Digital Libraries (ECDL 2004)

Using RSS feeds for alerts

Many online databases and general web sites such as news sites now also offer RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) feeds, which are a convenient time-saving means of bringing together the latest tables of contents (TOC's) for your favourite journals or web sites into your own personal web page or software tool.

Advantages of RSS

  • You don't need to register separately at numerous sites
  • The TOC's have links directly to the articles on the e-journal site
  • You can look at your TOC alerts whenever you like
  • Your RSS reader will indicate whenever you have unread TOC's available
  • It is much easier to unsubscribe from an RSS feed than from an email alerting service.


What are RSS feeds?


This video provides a clear explanation of how RSS works in less than 4 minutes.

Note:  it refers to Google Reader which is no longer available  Instead of Google Reader, see details of other feed readers in section below.


How do I set up an RSS feed?

There are a number of ways to receive RSS feeds:

1.  Use a free RSS reader web site such as  FeedlyReederThe Old Reader 

2.   Receive RSS feeds directly to your browser - most browsers have inbuilt feed reading capabilities.

3.   Use a start page e.g. NetVibes

4.   iTunes

5.   Mobile apps