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HAC/Library Academic Support Series: Collect & Evaluate Research (11/18)

Table of Contents

This page will guide you through the process of developing search times, selecting an appropriate database, accessing the full text of articles, and evaluating your sources to determine whether or not they fit your purposes. If you have any questions about the information on this page, or need further assistance, don't hesitate to reach out to a librarian. We are here to help you! 

Search Terms

Developing and Combining Search Terms

Before you search for sources on your topic there are a few important steps to take in order to get the best results.

Step One: Distill your research question into keywords

Library databases do not work when you search an entire sentence. Instead you need to distill your research question down to its core terms. For example, if we had a research question like: How does sleep deprivation affect learning? Our keywords would be sleep deprivation and learning.

You would not want to search any of the other words in the research question. "How" is not meaningful to our topic and finding articles that use the word "how" would not help us learn about sleep deprivation and learning.

Step Two: Brainstorm more search terms

Once you have the core elements of your research question spend time brainstorming related words. Some people might use sleep deprivation and others might use insomnia. To ensure the best search results you'll want as many possible keywords you can think of. Keywords can be synonyms, but they can also be words related to your topic. You never know what will or won't work so at this point come up with as many words as possible.

sleep deprivation - insomnia, sleep disorders, anxiety, chronic fatigue

learning - education, retention, college students, grades, graduation

Step Three: Combine search terms

Now that you have several keywords to work with you can construct a search. Here are a few tips for combing search terms:

  1. Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase. If we want to find sources about sleep deprivation, when we search it we should type it as "sleep deprivation". Otherwise we may get results that have the word sleep and the word deprivation but on completely different, unrelated pages.
  2. Combine terms with AND. Searching "sleep deprivation" AND learning will make sure all of our results contain both the phrase sleep deprivation and the word learning.
  3. Expand your search using OR. You can find more results if you search ("sleep deprivation" OR insomnia) AND learning. With this search our results will contain the word learning and either "sleep deprivation" as an exact phrase or insomnia. Doing this allows you to search using synonyms.
  4. Narrow your search using NOT. If you wanted to research sleep deprivation in k-12 education you could search "sleep deprivation" AND (learning NOT college). This search will exclude all results containing the word college. 
  5. Notice the last two examples above that terms are grouped together using parenthesis. This is another good tip!

Now that you've brainstormed search terms and built good search phrases you are ready to find a library database to search!


Getting to the Full-Text of an Article

After coming up with search times and selecting the correct database you can finally perform a search. Once you do a search and find some sources that fit your needs you need to track down the full-text of the source. This process can be a little tricky, and it isn't exactly the same in every database, but use the following steps as a general guideline and you'll have no trouble finding the articles you need. 

Step One: Click on the name of the article you want. Usually this will take you to a page with detailed information about the article. There are some instances where clicking the title of the article takes you straight to the full-text. If that happens, congratulations! You can skip the rest of these steps.

Step Two: Click on either the "Find It" or "PDF Full-Text" link on the left hand side of the screen. If that takes you to the full text of the article, congratulations! You're done! If it does not, which is very likely, continue to the next step.

Step Three: Click on the link that says "View Full Text" and that should (finally!) take you to the full text of the article. Sometimes there are more than one "View Full Text" link and it doesn't matter which one you click. They should both get you what you need.

Step Four: Sometimes when you click the "Find It" link in Step Two there are no "View Full Text" links. This means that the library does not have immediate access to the article you are looking for. However, we can get it for you through Interlibrary Loan and it only takes a couple extra clicks.  

Finding the Right Database

Selecting the Right Database

The library has general databases, which means they have a little bit of everything and subject specific databases, meaning they have a lot of one or two things.

Here you will find some suggestions for getting started with both general and subject specific databases. This is not an exhaustive list of available databases but a jumping off point. You can find (and browse by subject) a full list of databases available through the library here!

General Databases:

English, History, and Social Science Databases:

Psychology Databases:

Science Databases:

Education Databases:

Newspaper and Magazine Databases:

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating Sources

Evaluating a source means determining what kind of source you have and whether or not it suits your research needs. There are seven key things to consider when evaluating a source.

Authority: the credentials of the author(s) and the publisher of the information.
Who wrote or compiled the information? Who published it and why?

Currency: date of publication and the time period covered by the information.
Is the publication current or historic? Does it matter?

Accuracy: the overall reliability and correctness of the information.
Are the facts and statistics correct and verifiable?

Scope: the completeness of the coverage.
Is the publication comprehensive or selective? What is the focus of the source? Is it relevant to your information need?

Objectivity: the point of view taken in the material.
Is there an obvious bias or does it appear to be relatively objective? Is the author simply providing factual information or expressing an opinion?

Documentation: whether the material cites the sources of the information that is presented.
Do the authors or editors include references or is the information compiled from unknown sources?

Presentation: how the material is organized and supplemented.
Are there good access points such as a table of contents or an index? Are there visual aids to enhance or explain the information?

Other Considerations

Is the source popular or scholarly? Which will better fulfill your information need?

Is the source primary or secondary? Which will better fulfill your information need?