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Research Process

Searching for Resources

Use library resources to search for the articles, books, and other sources of information that you need.

  • Use your list of keywords to search the library's databases. Check out the Search Tips to make better searches.
  • Use database limiters to shorten and focus your list of results. Limiters like "Full Text," "Peer-Reviewed," and date ranges can be very helpful.
  • You may start searching and not be able to find the type of information you need right away. Be flexible. You may have to broaden or narrow your topic or use different keywords in your search. You may have to do several searches to find what you are looking for.

Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper, project, bibliography or other research assignment. Be aware of the depth of coverage needed and the due date. These important factors may help you decide how much and when you will modify your topic. You instructor will probably provide specific requirements, if not the table below may provide a rough guide:

Length of Research Paper or Project Suggested Guidelines for Approximate Number and Types of Sources Needed
1 - 2 pages 2 - 3 magazine articles, encyclopedia entries, or websites
3 - 5 pages 4 - 8 sources including books, articles (scholarly or popular), and websites
Annotated Bibliography 6 - 15 sources including books, scholarly articles, websites, etc.
10 - 15 pages 12 - 20 sources including books, scholarly articles, websites, etc.

As you are searching, it's a good idea to keep track of what you find. Here are some suggestions.

  • Use a Research Log to write down information about your sources as you find them. Include citation information and stable links.
  • Send an article's citation information to your account with a citation management tool like Zotero or EndNote Online.
  • Download and save or print articles as you find them.
  • Most databases have ways to send a articles to your email or Google Drive.
  • Carefully organize your bookmarks with meaningful titles. If you are trying to bookmark an article from the library's page, put the following URL string in front so that the library's proxy address will be activated:

Refine Your Topic to a Research Question

You will often begin with a word, develop a more focused interest in an aspect of something related to that word, then begin to have questions about the topic. Questions without a yes/no answer are typically better starting points for research questions. How? Why? What? Who?

For example:

Ideas = Frank Lloyd Wright 
Research Question = How has Frank Lloyd Wright influenced modern architecture?
Focused Research Question = What design principles used by Frank Lloyd Wright are common in contemporary homes?

Searching the Library Resources

The following resources search over almost all of the library's journal articles, book, ebook, films, and other resources. They are good places to start searching if you are not sure what journals or subject specific databases will have the information you need.

We have many databases that are specific to a particular topic or field of study. The go-to for nursing student is CINAHL. For psychology majors, it's PsychINFO. Engineers uses IEEEXplore.

For more databases for a specific academic subject try our Research Subject Guides.

Search Tips

  • Filters / Limiters / Facets: Most databases will allow you to filter your results using limiters, which can help to cut down the number of results you get from a search.
    • These are the options (normally located on the right hand side) that allow you to only display results that meet certain criteria such as peer-review, full-text, year of publication, etc.
  • Keywords: Use the most specific words to describe your topic including synonyms and alternate terms, such as abbreviations and scientific terms.
  • Controlled vocabulary: Database descriptors, the Library of Congress Subject Headings, or other thesauri gather information on the same topics together and may contain other useful words for your research. Ask the library reference staff for help in finding thesauri.
  • Natural Language: Try not to use full sentences when searching library databases. Leave out prepositions or interrogative words like "how," "why," and "where." Searching in the library works best when you use nouns and noun phrases as keywords.
  • Phrase Searching. Some databases and search engines will allow the use of quotations to search for an exact phrase or words together in a paragraph or sentence. This also may be referred to as proximity searching.
    • Example: "air pollution" Retrieves sources with the complete phrase instead of "air" in one sentence and "pollution" in another, unrelated sentence.
  • AND, OR, and NOT may be used to combine key words in electronic database searching. Using these operators can make your search more focused and yield more precise results.
    • Use AND to retrieve records containing only all search terms. AND will reduce and refine the results.
    • Use OR to retrieve records containing one, both or all of the search terms. OR will expand the search and retrieve more results.
    • Use NOT to exclude terms in a search. Be cautious when using NOT, useful search results may be omitted.
    • These operators are weighted with NOT having precedence, then AND, and finally OR.

Advanced Searching Tips

  • Bibliography Scanning: When you find an article you like, look at the bibliography. There is a good chance that you'll find other articles that would be helpful to your research. We also have a video tutorial that will help.
  • Find Alternate Keywords: Often databases will list the keywords or subjects that are associated with the article you find. You can sometimes find this information in the abstract of the article as well.
  • AND, OR, NOT: Use of database operators (AND, OR, NOT) can sometimes be useful to help tie together or separate search terms.
    • Use AND to only find articles that contain both of the keywords you're looking for.
    • Use OR to search for articles that use either one. 
    • Use NOT to eliminate a search term from your search. 
    • These operators are weighted with NOT having precedence, then AND, and finally OR.
  • Truncation or Wildcards: used to expand results by instructing the computer to look for the root of the word and all alternate word endings. The * (asterisk) or ? (question mark) may substitute for any number of characters at the beginning, middle or end of a word.
    • Example: gun* Retrieves gun, guns, gunners, gunnery, gunning, etc.
    • Some search tools and databases automatically use truncation and phrase searching will often override this function.

More Video Tutorials

Our YouTube channel has many more video tutorials on searching the library databases for article and other sources of information.