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Research Success Toolkit: Searching for Information

This guide is designed to help you better understand the research process and how to find, evaluate and use information for your course assignments.

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Choosing Your Topic

Woman holding laptop

Image by Igor Link from Pixabay 

As you begin searching and exploring the information available on your research topic, you may find that you are either finding a lack of materials on the topic or that you are overwhelmed with the information available.

Here's what you should do if: 

1.) Your topic is too broad. Find a way to limit the depth or scope of your search. Narrow or restrict the topic to something, such as a certain aspect of a subject or issue, you can deal with that will not be so overwhelming as you are searching for information.

2.) Your topic is too narrow. Find a way to expand your topic to include a wider range of information that can be retrieved through your research.

If you still have problems following one of these strategies, it could be time to consider another topic but check with the library first! Below are some useful links to help you develop research questions and gain control over the research process overall.

Writing a Thesis Statement

Writing a thesis is one of the most challenging tasks in working on a research paper and will focus the direction of your work. Below are some websites to help give you some pointers!

Tips for Using Books as Sources

How do you decide if a book might be useful for your research? Below are some tips to help you make a decision.

1. If the title of the book contains your topic keyword or phrase, it might be appropriate to use for your project.

2. The table of contents, usually located near the beginning of a book, is another good place to look for information about a topic. These are usually listed as chapter headings.

3. The book index is your friend! Always consult the index, located at the end of the book, for your topic.

4. Your topic may be be covered in a book according to different terminology but through similar concepts so be sure to look for other keywords or terms that are related to your chosen topic.

Doing Research

When it is time to do research for your classwork, search library resources first to find scholarly information provided by authoritative sources! The Internet can be a useful resource to find general information but is not the best place to search for academic purposes. Since anyone can create websites and upload information to the Internet, it can be tricky to determine which sites are appropriate for personal or scholarly research.

  • Websites in a government domain, such as those with the ".gov" web address, can often provide helpful information for research but may not always be updated in a timely manner.
  • Other websites published by organizations that are hosted within a ".org" domain can also have useful information but be careful about citing biased information that could be slanted toward one particular viewpoint on an issue. 
  • Websites that are published within an educational domain with a ".edu" URL can also be considered for research but do consider authorship. 
  • Other types of websites you will find online are commercial sites (.com) and include wikis, blogs, and other social media sites, such as YouTube. Content you will find on these sites can be posted by anyone, from amateur to professional so use such information with caution.  

As a student, you must learn how to evaluate these web resources to determine if the information you find is appropriate for your research. The library can provide the information your instructors expect you to research and use for assignments.  The library has access to information in print, non-print, and online.

Find sources for research!

Boolean Searching, Explained

When searching within online databases, it is important to use common search techniques and tools to gather the most specific and appropriate information that relates to your research topic. Doing so will narrow your search results considerably, saving you time and headache. After deciding upon a list of keywords or search terms and a particular database to search, you are ready to get started! One method of searching involves using Boolean Logic. Within most database interfaces, this means you will chose AND, OR or NOT to search for certain information you specify, such as title, author or keyword.

  • Using AND as a search term connector will return all results that include articles, etc. that contain BOTH or more than two terms for which specify. This kind of search is designed to return a smaller, more precise group of results. (Hint: Using AND narrows your search results.)

           Example: leaves AND trees

          Example: rivers AND lakes AND streams

  • Using OR as a search term connector will return all results that include items that contain EITHER or ANY of the terms you specify. This kind of search will generally always return a high number of results due to the database returning all items that contain any of the words for which you searched. (Hint: Using OR widens or broadens your search results.)

          Example: leaves OR trees

          Example: rivers OR lakes OR streams

  • Using NOT as a search term connector, or excluder, will return results that DO NOT INCLUDE a term you specify. This kind of search is helpful when you want to look at terminology in context. (Hint: Using NOT narrows your search results.)

          Example: leaves NOT trees

          Example: rivers NOT (lakes OR streams)

          (Note: Terms and operators in parentheses are performed first.)


Digging deeper!

In ENG 101, you learned some basic search strategies to employ within library databases and online, including: 

  • Identify specific keywords, terminology or phrases related to your research topic.
  • Identify synonyms, or keywords or terms with similar meaning, i.e. babies and infants or car and sedan. 
  • Use quotation marks ("") around phrases or titles to find results with a specific order of keywords, which avoids finding results that mays include only one keyword of the phrase in the search.
  • Use truncation to find more results, i.e. comput* to find compute, computer, computers, computing, etc.
  • Use Boolean searching to combine search terms, i.e. AND to find results with all keywords listed within the same record (narrowed results), OR to find results with any of the keywords in any record (more broad results), and NOT to eliminate certain keywords from the results (limiting). 
  • Use parentheses to narrow searches, i.e. autism AND (symptoms OR diagnosis).

Here are more tips to help you dig deeper!

  • Every database is structured differently and allows for different searching methods, although many may be similar. Look for the "Help" or "?" icon in each database or search interface to find out more about specific search tools and strategies you can use. These links are often located at the top of the website or in the top corners. 
  • Use wildcards, which are similar to truncation, but allow you to search more flexibly. Often an asterisk is used in this type of search but the symbol(s) may vary by database. For example wh* would return results with why, what, where and when. Searching for recogni*e would find results with recognize and recognise. Check the "Help" or "?" in each database to learn more!
  • If you look at the advanced searching in a database, you will see that it often allows you to chose which "field" or electronic place in each record, behind the scenes. For example, if you select "Author" as a search term from the advanced search menu, a database "knows" to look in the field, or place in each record being searched where the authors' names are located, specifically the indexes of those fields (like the index of a book) for speed and efficiency. Many databases pre-assign subjects to articles or other content and when you type in those keywords, the databases will show you results that are associated with those subjects. Some databases such as EBSCOhost use "field codes" that you can type in a search box to find certain records. For example, you might type SU therapy dogs and veterans to search for articles with those subjects. Or, you might search for AU Smith and Brown to look for articles written specifically by these authors.