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J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library

Library & Research 101: Searching/ Research 101

This guide has been created to provide you with some tips and tricks for finding research and materials and to help you navigate the library's resources and services.

Getting Started

NOTE: The research process can look different based on the topic, information needs, and researcher. Listed below are the main components research can involve, but it may be completed in a different order or contain additional components. 

  • Gather initial ideas that will become your research question. Explore potential topics on Google Scholar or popular sources. The Library Search is also a good place to start. 
  • Pick one idea to go with and start brainstorming keywords and related terms. For example if your topic is concussions your list might include the following:
    • concussions, effects, regulations in sports, signs, treatment, car accidents, traumatic brain injury, TBI, brain function 
  • Turn your idea into a research question. This is a sentence that encompasses what you will be researching. 
    • Example: How regulations in professional soccer identify, treat, and limit concussions 
  • Brainstorm keywords and related terms for your research question. These can be concepts broader or narrower than your research question. 




Librarians are available to answer your questions. Click on the Ask Us bubble for FAQs and contact options (chat, email, text, phone).

Top 5 Library FAQ's:

Searching Tips


These search tips can be applied in the library search, databases, and Google/ Google Scholar. There may be minimal differences across databases but using these will generally work. 

  • When searching using the library search and databases, avoid typing your whole question in (like in Google). Instead try to break your research question into the most important keywords and related terms. 

  • Combine your search terms with an AND, OR, NOT 
  • Use quotation marks to search that exact phrase. Only search results with those words in that order will appear. Example: "autonomous robot"
  • Use parentheses around to like terms with an OR in between. (fish OR dolphin). In order of operations the database will search "autonomous robot" and underwater and fish OR "autonomous robot" and underwater and dolphin. 
  • Use the asterisk as a truncation symbol. Example: develop* will return results with the words develop, development, developing, develops, etc. 


Where to Search

When deciding where to search consider what type of information you are looking for. Where to search varies broadly based on the topic or information need, but here is a general rule of thumb:

Choosing a resource: Depending on what information you are looking for, you may want to look in different places

  • Database: (links to the database tab of the guide)
  • Library Search: searches for everything the library owns, and a lot of what it subscribes to. Use this option to find books and materials owned by the library and as an introductory way to find articles on your topic 
  • Google Search: Use this option if looking for information not found in scholarly journals. For example, looking for information on various different college/university websites. 

Choosing a source type: Narrow your search to a specific source type using the options on the left (works in the library search or in a database search) 

  • Scholarly Journal Article: contains original research or thinking on a topic. It is written by experts in the field and often is peer reviewed. 
  • Review Article: summarizes all the research on a particular topic. It is often published in a scholarly journal and may also highlight current gaps that future researchers should explore.  Frequently grouped together with the scholarly journal article when sorting by source type. 
  • Trade Journal Article: written for people working in the field. It often focuses on the practical application of research, current news, and market information in the field. 
  • Editorial: An opinion piece. It can be written by an editorial board, or by individuals. Editorials can be found in journals, newspapers, magazines, and more, so its credibility is often heavily based on the credibility of the publication it's found in. 
  • Magazine Article: typically written for the general public. It may be long or short and may include both opinion and fact. 

Search With the Library Search Function

Open the library website and enter in keywords, a title, author, etc into the search bar. This will search through our catalog and databases. 



After entering in a search into the search bar, you can revise your search to eliminate irrelevant results. You can also click on “advanced search” in the top right for added revising tools.


Notice the search filters that have been used - date, subjects, and source type. These can be especially useful in narrowing down your results. You can select subjects you want to include and exclude from the subjects drop-down on the left. 


Narrowing Your Topic and/or Search

When does a topic and/or search need to be narrowed? 

  • number of search results is a good indicator, if you get more than a few thousand results a narrower topic is recommended
  • take into consideration the scope of your research: a 3-5 page paper may require a more narrow topic than a 10-15 page paper

How do you narrow down a topic?

  • Pick one aspect of your topic: cancer > specific cancer > Glioblastoma multiforme (specific type of brain tumor) 
  • Pick a population or environmental factor: glioblastoma multiforme in adults 

How do you narrow down a search?

  • Choose a subject specific database: ProQuest material sciences and engineering instead of ProQuest
  • Pick a source type: scholarly article is a good one
  • Narrow by date
  • Narrow by subject 



Evaluating Sources

When evaluating a source (article, book, etc), consider the following:

  • Does it help to answer your specific research question or does it only broadly touch on your topic but not in the direction you need?
    • Research question: can exercise help lessen depressive symptoms in college students
    • An article about how exercise is being recommended to patients (including depressed patients) by doctors may not be useful if that's not a focus of your paper
  • When was the source written? Does this match your need?
    • a research question of how depression was treated in the 1980's compared to today should include articles written in the 1980's and articles written in the last 3-5 years
  • Who wrote it and where was it published? 
    • Are you looking for peer-reviewed, scholarly articles? Then make sure they are written by people in the field and published in a scholarly journal
    • Are you looking for practical information such as treatments for depression? Then you may want some articles written by doctors or psychiatrists

  • What types of references does it have? 
  • Who is the audience?
    • Researchers? people in that field? general public?