How Reference Modules are used for teaching and research

The primary point of interaction with scholarly material is at the level of the journal article. However, while performing multidisciplinary research or when learning about a new subject as a student, it is crucial to have a baseline understanding of the topic. Unfortunately, the route to gaining this foundational knowledge can be frustrating and time-consuming; many resources such as free search engines and wikis are often unreliable and uncitable or out-of-date. Thankfully, Elsevier has created an innovative solution to this problem: Reference Modules.

Reference Modules

Reference Modules are the perfect counterpart to journal articles. They provide an essential introduction to a specific field, with chapters offering the ideal starting point to research and learning. Each Reference Module provides a subject-focused collection of current encyclopedic and comprehensive articles from Elsevier’s world-leading Major Reference Works, combined with new and exclusively-written articles within the discipline, to create a single online, authoritative information source hosted on a trusted platform, ScienceDirect. This time-stamped, continuously updated content, curated by an expert Editorial Board, is built for the demands of today’s research environment to support the seamless success of scientists, academics and students.

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Here’s more about the wide variety of applications for Reference Modules:

Using Reference Modules for interdisciplinary research

Michael Caplan

Michael Caplan, Editor-in-Chief for Reference Module in Biomedical Sciences - Yale University School of Medicine, USA

If you are a cell biologist you might not know what lives under the genetics rock. If you’re a pathologist, you might not know what lives under the epidemiology rock. The architecture of this [Reference Module] will hopefully allow researchers an opportunity to leap from rock to rock, and know which ones they want to turn over and I think that will be the huge advantage.

Valentina Trinetta

Valentina Trinetta, Kansas State University, USA

Sometimes scientists tend to be very specialized in a particular area of the discipline and lose the overall contest. This module will help food scientists always have the entire perspective of the food science world.

Antonio Giordano

Antonio Giordano, Subject Editor for Cell Biology and Genetics - Temple University, USA

Life sciences include many different but interconnected disciplines. To progress, research needs to consider the whole of things analyzing all their possible aspects through different technical tools. We, as scientists, tend to specialize more and more into narrow fields but the Reference Module in Life Science now gives us the chance to better view ‘the big picture’. Thanks to this innovative publishing strategy, both specialists and non-specialists can access life sciences through different perspectives and easily find reliable sources of updated and authoritative material through well designed hierarchies of topics, which lead readers to both general overviews and detailed chapters satisfying all possible needs of information.

Using Elsevier’s Reference Module in food science to provide first-rate consulting

Neil Smith

Neil Smith, Regulatory Affairs and Nutrition Manager, Devondale Murray Goulburn, Melbourne, Australia. Subject Editor, Food Management, Policy and Regulations, for the Reference Module in Food Science


  • As an independent scientific and regulatory affairs consultant being able to react quickly with meaningful, accurate and up-to-date information is a necessity to enable my clients to potentially reduce the time necessary to realize their objectives.
  • It is often difficult to refine an internet search for information on a specific subject without receiving articles that were out of date, barely relevant, or written by people who were not authoritative sources.


  • I found the Reference Module to be a major advantage to my work, allowing me to search for articles on multiple subjects, all in the one location. I now have a dedicated library relating to all aspects of food science at my fingertips.
  • The Reference Module also allows consultants to search quickly and easily for relevant and up-to-date information on issues because the articles will be reviewed for currency regulary.

Using Reference Modules in the Classroom

Colin F. Poole

Professor Colin F. Poole, Wayne State University, USA Subject Editor, Analytical Science and Chemometrics, for the Reference Module in Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering


  • I have taught the Principles of Instrumental Analysis class for a number of years and have experienced difficulty in providing students with appropriate, up-to-date, and relevant information.
  • The textbooks we have recommended in previous years are expensive and at least half the course material was out of date.


  • I piloted the CMSE Reference Module on ScienceDirect as the primary source of teaching and assigned reading materials for this class in Fall 2014.
  • The module provides comprehensive coverage of the course material with the flexibility to direct students to tutorials, targeted reviews, and specific applications at a level suitable for their needs. I was able to select and recommend just the material that they were required to cover in the course and each article was time stamped and certified to be up-to-date.

Chai-Lin Kao

Dr. Chai-Lin Kao, Associate Professor of Medical and Applied Chemistry, Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan


  • After teaching the seminar class for a number of years, Dr. Kao noticed his students typically used public databases, such as Wikipedia or Google Scholar, as their sole information sources… and rarely validated the accuracy of the information they acquired.
  • “Students and junior scientists must learn how to determine whether information is properly vetted and fact-based. Once that is confirmed, reasonable argument and scientific induction can follow.”


  • The students found that Elsevier’s Reference Modules are keeping pace with their changing needs by offering the right information at the right time.
  • “Since I introduced the Reference Modules to students, they began to realize that they can obtain more in-depth knowledge than what they find on Wikipedia or Google. Reference Modules are able to provide comprehensive coverage of course material where each article is certified to be up-to-date. Students obtain the most current information.”
  • One-third of the class improved their performance with grades jumping from B+ to A. Dr. Kao says these students were more confident in their oral presentations, likely because they could refer to trustworthy data.

Elsevier now publishes Reference Modules in seven leading subject areas:

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Contributed by :

Caitlin Beddows

Caitlin Beddows, Channel Marketing Manager, ScienceDirect Books. Channel Marketing Manager for Reference Modules, Major Reference Works, Handbooks and Serials at Elsevier, where we curate and disseminate science content from the world, for the world.