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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. Click on Books and 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. The term 'refereed journals' refers to journals that make use of the peer review process where academic reviewers evaluate articles before they are published.

Not all scholarly journals are peer reviewed. 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. The article will then 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 carry more weight

When a journal’s Editorial Panel receives an article from a researcher, they will send it to one or more experienced and respected researchers 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. The review may take place in one of two ways:

  • single blind, whereby the reviewers are not known to the author, but the reviewers know the name of the author; and
  • double blind, whereby neither the reviewers nor the authors are aware of one another’s identities.

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

  • reviewers cannot be completely objective;
  • peer review by busy professionals slows down the publication process;
  • peer review is not always successful in eliminating flawed research;
  • reviewers can block valid new ideas, views or research;
  • the process of choosing the reviewers has been questioned; and
  • the methodology of the review process itself has been questioned.

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. Go to the Unisa Library website > click on Find e-resources > Accept A-Z U > Ulrichsweb. Type in the name of the journal, e.g. Harvard Law Review, and click on the magnifying glass icon. The basic description of the journal will include a field titled Refereed

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). 

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 sources,
  • the full text of the original source, e.g. an e-book, an e-thesis, or an e-journal article,
  • a combination of both bibliographic references and full text publications.

Most 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 license.

Access to all electronic resources is password controlled and restricted to Unisa staff and 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. 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:

E-reserves can be accessed via the Library Catalogue. Under Search options, select Course Code Search and enter your course code. Select a relevant article and download the article.

Books can be requested via the Encore Library Catalogue. Type the title or author of the book, select the relevant book from the list and click the Request it button. You will be prompted for your myUnisa login codes.

E-books can be downloaded for a set period to your computer or mobile device via the Encore Library CatalogueType the title or author of the book, select the relevant book from the list and click eBook button. Find the link to the PDF or HTML version of the book. You will be prompted for your myUnisa login codes.

Journal articles can be downloaded via the Encore Library Catalogue.  Type the title or author of the article and click the View record in ... button. Find the link to the PDF or HTML version of the article. You will be prompted for your myUnisa login codes.

Law Reports can be downloaded from the law databases. For more information, go to the Law Library guide.

Requesting books, journal articles or law reports that you cannot find using Encore or the Unisa e-journal finder: please send an email with your information and full details of the item that you need to Remember to include your student number.

Access to your personal Library record is available via the Library Catalogue. Select My Library and then 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

To request a Literature search:

  • go to myUnisa and enter your login codes
  • click on More Sites 
  • lick on Library 
  • 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 Submit once

Submit any request for a literature search at the earliest opportunity as this service works on a first-come-first-served basis.

There are dedicated mailboxes whereby you may:

Services to clients living with disabilities

The Unisa Library provides a physical and virtual environment of support for users living with a disability to both access and manage effectively the information they need for their teaching, learning and research activities.

Being an Open Distance Learning institution we serve both clients who can visit the Library in person and remote clients.

The Library offers an array of material in electronic format.