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Ask a Librarian: Understanding the Types of Resources

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What are prescribed and recommended books?

A prescribed book is a book selected and approved by the lecturers responsible for a course or module as compulsory reading for students and on which they will be examined. Prescribed books are therefore essential to the successful completion of a course or module. Note, however, that not all courses or modules have prescribed books.

It is the University's policy that students must purchase their own copy of a prescribed book and hence the Library only purchases one or two copies of these titles. No Waiting List is kept for these books. Note that, at this stage, the majority of prescribed books are in print and not electronic format.

You will, generally speaking, find a list of your prescribed book(s) in Tutorial Letter 101 per course or module.

Prescribed books may be purchased from Unisa's official booksellers. The latest list of official booksellers can be found on the landing page of the myUnisa website. Look for the link to the Official Booksellers on the left-hand side of the screen.

Recommended books are likewise selected and approved by the lecturer's responsible for a course or module as supplementary reading to the content of your prescribed books and study guides. Recommended reading is also compulsory unless otherwise stated and is essential to the successful completion of your course or module. You will notice that the words "prescribed pages" are sometimes used to describe extracts from recommended books.

A list of your recommended reading is provided in Tutorial Letter 101 per course or module. Keep in mind that some courses and modules do not have prescribed and/ or recommended reading.

Whenever possible, your prescribed and recommended extracts from books, journal articles and other publications (e.g. the law reports used by Law students) are made available to you online via the Electronic Reserves. This database houses the bulk of your prescribed and recommended reading in digital format and, if you have convenient access to the Internet, you may download this reading yourself. If you do not have convenient access to the Internet you may request copies of these items from the Library. For more information on how to use the Electronic Reserves please click here.

Where can I find South African dissertations and theses?

South African master's dissertations and doctoral theses can be found by searching the following sources:

  •  The Unisa Library Catalogue.  Choose a keyword or subject search and type in your search terms, e.g. risk management. Limit your search by clicking on the down arrow beside View Entire Collection and select UNISA Theses and Dissertations, and then click on Submit. You will retrieve a list of dissertations and theses that are available in print (will need to request) and/ or electronic format (may view and download).
  • The Unisa Institutional Repository (UnisaIR). This young and rapidly growing full text database stores digital copies of completed master's dissertations and doctoral theses, articles and papers, among other things, produced by the research community of Unisa's staff and students. It is an open access database that can be browsed or searched. There is a search window under "Search UnisaIR'. Enter your search terms, e.g. human kidney sales, and click on Go.  
  • The National ETD Portal is a full text database (also quite young and rapidly growing) which contains digital copies of completed master's dissertations and doctoral theses from South African universities. It offers a basic search and an advanced search, or you may browse alphabetically by title, or by institution, or chronologically by ascending or descending year.

These are not the only databases you may consult. Visit the Library home page, click on Find e-resources and then on Theses & dissertations to see a complete list in alphabetical order of the local and international databases that either index or offer the full text of dissertations and theses.

Generally speaking, Honours and LLB dissertations are not available electronically or in the Library's collections. There are a few exceptions.

Research Proposals are also not available electronically or in the Library's collections.

How do I find electronic journal articles?

You may use the Unisa Library e-Journal Finder to locate electronic journals or to find out if the Library subscribes to a journal in electronic format. See the LibGuide on e-Journals and how to Use the e-Journal Finder for more information.


What does the term 'peer reviewed journals' mean?

Peer review is an aspect of the publishing cycle in scholarly or learned journals. It would be safe to say that peer review originated with the scientific publishing process, but it is now a common feature in the publication process of all fields of research, from Law to the Arts to Business Management. You will also come across the term “refereed journals” and this means journals that make use of the peer review process and “referee” means the academic reviewers who evaluate articles before they are published.

Note, however, that not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed journals. Scholarly journals will have the same type of content as peer reviewed journals but they require only the approval of the Editorial Panel or Board for an article to be published.

When a researcher has conducted a study, and collected and analysed the data, they often report their findings in an article which they submit to a reputable journal for publication. Submitting an article to the Editorial Panel of a scholarly journal is not a guarantee of publication. The article will first pass through the peer review process before being accepted for publication. The peer review process is a form of quality control and journals that make use of the process are generally considered to have more gravitas. Peer review is seen as a widely accepted measure of sound scholarship.

When a journal’s Editorial Panel receives an article from a researcher, they will send it to one or more experienced and respected researchers (often leading lights in their field) who specialise in the same field covered by the article, hence the term ‘peer’.

The reviewer will carefully judge the article on its validity, originality, its contribution to knowledge in the discipline, ethics, methodology, the presence of any bias, conflicts of interest, funding sources, whether the findings can be replicated, plagiarism, completeness and currency of content and of sources – in brief, the reviewer ensures that the article is of a high enough standard to be published under the name of that prestigious journal and is a credible offering to the research community. The reviewer will then let the Editorial Panel know if they found the article worthy of publication (and will usually include feedback on what revisions the author can make to improve the article or bring it up to standard) or if it should be rejected for publication. Note that the reviewer is not expected to focus on grammar and spelling as this falls to the Editor or Associate Editor, although the reviewer may point out problems with expression or clarity – but the reviewer focuses mainly on the content of the article.

The review may take place in one of two ways:

(i)                single blind, whereby the reviewers are not known to the author, but the reviewers know the name of the author; and

(ii)              double blind, whereby neither the reviewers nor the authors are aware of one another’s identities.

The virtue of this mechanism is that it safeguards against personal positive or negative bias on the part of the reviewer, and on the part of the author if negative feedback or rejection are the outcome of the review process. Anonymity, while it can of course be abused, is believed to impart fearless and unbiased honesty to the process.

The process is not perfected by any means and has received criticism for some of the following reasons:

Ø  reviewers cannot be completely objective;

Ø  peer review by busy professionals slows down the publication process;

Ø  peer review is not always successful in eliminating flawed research;

Ø  reviewers can block valid new ideas, views or research that they disagree with or which contradicts or discredits their own findings, or findings in which they are invested, or which they support;

Ø  the process of choosing the reviewers has been questioned; and

Ø  the methodology of the review process itself has been questioned.


A succinct definition of peer review is available from The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology: 

peer review

Quite literally, a review by one's PEERS or by the members of one's PEER GROUP. Hence:

1 In social psychology, a process whereby one's behaviour is analysed and evaluated by other members of one's social group.

2 In the actual functioning of science, a set of procedures whereby one's colleagues in a scientific field evaluate one's contribution in that field. In this sense, peer review is used to determine the publishability of scientific papers, to evaluate research proposals, to assess grant applications, etc.”

Cite as: ‘Peer review’ (2009) in The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013).

How do I find out if a journal has been peer reviewed?

There are a number of approaches to find out if a journal is a peer reviewed journal or not.

You can consult the editorial statement or instructions to authors section of the individual journal which will indicate if the journal is peer-reviewed or refereed (the journal might use either of these two terms). You will find these two sections of a journal either in the print copy of the journal or on the home page of the journal (carry out a phrase search on Google to find the home page of a journal, e.g. “Developmental Psychology” home page. The journal used in this example has a section called “Instructions to Authors” and there you will see that this particular journal describes its “Masked Review Policy”.

You may also look up the journal title on the Ulrichsweb database to which the Unisa Library subscribes.  The search interface is Google-like. Simply type in the name of the journal, e.g. Harvard Law Review, and click on the magnifying glass icon. Click on the title of the journal. The basic description of the journal will include a field titled Refereed and the word Yes. Please let us know if you encounter any difficulties using the Ulrichsweb database: 

Go to > click on Library > click on Find e-resources > click on A – Z list of electronic resources > click on u in the A – Z alphabet at the top of the table > click on Ulrichsweb in the second column of the table > you will be prompted for your student number and myUnisa password. Enter this information and click on LOGIN > type in the title of the journal and click on the magnifying glass icon.

Peer Reviewed Journals - References

The information provided above on the subject of peer reviewed journals is indebted to the following publications:

American Psychological Association (APA) Science Student Council (2007) ‘A graduate students’ guide to involvement in the peer review process’, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). 

Gray, Catherine (2010) ‘Peer review: A guide for researchers’ posted on the Research Information Network on 10 March, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). Note: Click on the link to the Peer Review Guide under ‘Attachments’ at the bottom of this web page. This is particularly well written and makes clear the distinction between peer review for the publication process and peer review when applying for research grants or funding. Includes useful diagrams that makes the two processes more visual. 

Guilford, William H (2001) ‘Teaching peer review and the process of scientific writing’ Advances in Physiology Education, vol 25, no 3, 1 September, pp 167-175, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). 

Hale, Jamie (2011) ‘Understanding research methodology 4: Peer review process’ posted on World of Psychology (Blog), available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). 

‘Peer review’ (2009) in The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). 

‘Scrutinizing science: Peer review’ posted on the Understanding Science: How Science Really Works website, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). 

Thomas, Robert JS (2006) ‘Understanding the peer review process’ World Journal of Surgery, vol 30, pp 1366-1367, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013).

‘Understanding journals: Peer-reviewed, scholarly, trade, & popular’ posted on the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Hunt Library website, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013). 

‘Understanding peer review’ (2013) posted by Dr Dolittle on ScienceBlogs: Life Lines on 11 February, available at: (accessed 10 July 2013).

What is meant by the Library’s electronic resources?

The Library’s electronic resources consist of both free and subscription databases that contain:

  • purely bibliographic references and abstracts which provide you with sufficient information to assess whether a reference is relevant to your research topic and which can be used to locate and/ or request the original published or unpublished sources,
  • or the full text of the original source, e.g. an e-book, an e-thesis, or an e-journal article,
  • or a combination of both bibliographic references and full text publications.

The bulk of the Unisa Library’s electronic resources are commercially published and the Library obtains access to these resources on your behalf by paying a subscription fee and abiding by the copyright and access restrictions imposed by the publisher’s site licence.

Access to all subscription-based electronic resources is password controlled and restricted to Unisa staff and currently registered Unisa students, and these resources may be used only for non-commercial educational and research purposes.

Please see the database licensing and access restrictions on all electronic resources, including course material for more detailed information on the terms and conditions of access to the Unisa Library’s electronic resources. When you open this link, scroll down to see the information.

An example of a free database is the Library Catalogue which lists all the items held in the various collections of the Unisa Libraries and where they are located. The Library Catalogue is open to the public. However, where the Library Catalogue provides links to documents in the Electronic Reserves or to subscription databases, access is password controlled.

An example of a subscription database would be Academic Search Premier which is published by EBSCOHost.

Where do I find the Library’s electronic resources?

What is meant by the Library’s electronic services?

The Library offers an array of electronic request services.

There are the three basic request services available via the Library Catalogue. Glide your cursor over My Library and select:

  • Book Requests (request that books be sent to you)
  • Article Requests (request that copies of articles be sent to you)
  • Law Report Requests (request that copies of law reports be sent to you)

Access to your personal Library record (or account) is also available via the Library Catalogue. Glide your cursor over My Library and select myLibrary/Renewals/Login in order to:

  • view the items out on loan to you
  • look up the due dates of the items out on loan to you
  • renew the loan period of any or all of the items out on loan to you

From the Library home page you may:

  • obtain the official form to request a literature search on a research topic (which you will then submit by email to
  • use the Ask a Librarian service to ask a short reference question

From myUnisa:

If you cannot visit the Library, you may submit a request for a literature search on your research topic to the Information Search Librarians Team via myUnisa > click on More Sites > click on Library > if the menu on the left-hand side of the page is not visible click on the right-facing arrow to expand the menu > select the Literature search request form option from the menu > read the important information on this page before clicking on the blue continue arrow in the bottom right-hand corner of the page and complete the form > click on Submit only once to prevent duplicate submissions. Submit any request for a literature search at the earliest opportunity as this service works on a first-come-first-served basis.

There are also dedicated mailboxes whereby you may: