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Research Basics: Find Information

Develop a topic, use the library catalog and databases, evaluate and cite sources.

Plan your search strategy before you begin!

What kinds of sources do you need? Where are you most likely to find them? Which keywords are most descriptive of your topic, and therefore most likely to yield useful information? If you take the time to answer these questions before you begin searching, you are likely to experience less frustration as you navigate the web, library databases, and library catalog.

1. Find Relevant Sources

Identify information sources that will provide the most credible & relevant information.

Books for Research

Advantages: books from university presses and academic publishers present scholarly research in depth. They are especially useful for background information and may help provide context for your topic.

Disadvantages: it may take years for a book to be written, edited, and published. For this reason, the most recent information about a topic may not be included even in a recently published book.

Articles for Research

Advantages: articles from scholarly periodicals very often go through a process called peer review, during which time the information is validated and edits are made for improvement. They often contain original research and data harvested from that research, and they provide a more focused treatment of a topic than a book.

Disadvantages: because of their narrow focus, scholarly articles are not the best resource for general interest topics, and because the peer review process takes some time, they may not contain cutting edge information.

Websites for Research

Advantages: websites may provide up-to-the-minute information about current topics. Government reports and statistics, a useful source of data for supporting a thesis, are published online by the government agencies that produce them.

Disadvantages: because there is no formal quality control on the internet, websites may contain biased, outdated, or inaccurate information. Some scholarly publishing is made available for free on the open web, but only a fraction of what is produced.

How to Find Relevant Sources

Find Relevant Sources Video

How to Find Relevant Sources by Credo Reference

3. Combine Search Terms: Boolean Searching

Combine keywords and phrases to find sources that closely match your topic.

Boolean logic

Use the AND operator to combine keywords and phrases, for fewer but more focused and useful search results.
Ex: typing vegetarian AND vegan in the search bar will retrieve search results where both vegetarian and vegan must be present.

Use the OR operator to include words or phrases with similar meaning, ensuring that your search results don’t exclude useful information.
Ex: typing vegetarian OR vegan in the search bar will retrieve search results where either vegetarian or vegan is present.

Use the NOT operator to exclude words or phrases from your search and filter out search results that may not be useful.
Ex: typing vegetarian NOT vegan in the search bar will retrieve search results where vegetarian is present but vegan is excluded.

Image adapted from Choosing and Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research
by Ohio State University Libraries


Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

2. Choose Search Terms

Choose keywords carefully, and identify synonyms for your keywords.

Natural language searching = using full sentences or long phrases

For example: How does global warming affect the economy in poor countries?

This is the most common but most inefficient method.

--search engines like Google are able to parse (analyze) the text in the search box
--stop words like articles (a, an, the) and prepositions (in, from, for) are ignored
--the search engine retrieves results where the remaining words are present in a document or website

Natural language searching does not work well with the library catalog or research databases.

--the catalog and databases do not parse words in the search bar like Google does
--too many words in the search bar often returns 0 results 

Phrase searching = enclosing phrase in quotation marks to search

For example: "global warming" instead of global warming

This produces fewer but more focused search results.

Enclosing phrases in quotation marks ensures that the search engine will search for your words in exact order, rather than as distinct words


Keyword searching = using descriptive words from your thesis or research question

For example: “global warming” + economy

Keyword searching is more efficient than natural language searching.

--a search engine retrieves all records where keywords are present anywhere in the document or website
--the search engine ranks results according to factors in search algorithm
--more keywords in the search statement means fewer, more focused search results (2-4 keywords works best)

It may still be somewhat inefficient when searching online.

--overwhelmingly large number of results is likely with a search engine like Google
--many irrelevant results are displayed when a keyword is found deep within the full text of a record
--too many keywords in a library catalog search may = poor search results

4. Use Advanced Searching

 Use advanced search functions for more precise searches.

Boolean Operators in Google Advanced Search

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License