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Academic Research and Writing: Finding Resources

Finding Resources

Research is a process of locating, evaluating, and synthesizing information. There are many types of resources, including books, articles, websites, videos, and more, that contain useful information for academic research. Resources can be located through multiple methods, including: 

Search Tips

Number: using between two and five keywords usually produces good results. 

Field type: searching your keywords as an author, subject, or title will narrow your results. If your results are too broad, try adding a field type to see if your results improve. 

Synonyms: different terms may be used to discuss the same topic. Separate synonyms using OR to search for results that contain either keyword. For example, "climate change" is frequently referred to as "global warming," so try searching for "climate change" OR "global warming."

Quotation marks: can be placed around keywords to search for an exact phrase. For example, climate change will produce results where both words show up anywhere in the same resource, but "climate change" will produce results where those two words are next to each other in that exact order. 

Asterisks: add at the end of a word to search for all possible endings. For example, searching child* will search for resources containing child, children, childhood, etc. 

Boolean Operators: use to link ideas and narrow/broaden your search.

  • “climate change” AND politics: results must include both keywords
  • “climate change” OR “global warming”: results will contain either keyword
  • “United States” NOT Europe: items that contain the word Europe will be excluded

Search bars: most advanced searches allow you to enter keywords into additional search bars. By doing this, you can search more precisely by changing the field type and boolean operators for your keywords. 

Date range: unless you are doing an historical survey, start by limiting your results to the last five years. If you don't find what you need, keep going back. If you find too much, narrow it further to the last two years or even one year. 

Peer reviewed: this means that an article has been reviewed for accuracy and value by experts, "peers," in that field. When doing scholarly research, you usually want to use peer reviewed articles. The easiest way to limit to only peer-reviewed articles is to select the "peer reviewed" (a.k.a. "scholarly") checkbox that can be found in the limiters of most scholarly databases.  

Subject: narrow your results to a specific subject. If you don't know what subjects are used to discuss your topic, after conducting a search, locate an article that looks interesting to you and see what subjects it falls into. 

Full text: selecting this option will eliminate results for which the full text is not available in the database you are currently using. However, many databases provide links to other databases that contain the full text.

Source Types

How do you know what kind of source to use? This video from BYU Library Online Learning discusses the different resources you will find in library databases and on the Web.

Tutorial: Creating an Effective Search Strategy

In order to find the best resources, it is important to search strategically. This tutorial from the University of Minnesota Libraries covers the basics of conducting an effective search. 

Comparing Library Databases and Web Information

Library Catalog & Databases
  Web Search Engines
Types of Information Retrieved
  • Journal articles
  • Magazine & newspaper articles
  • Books and eBooks
  • Videos, music, art
  • Reference materials
  • Everything published on the open and indexed web
  • Commercial (.com, .net), educational (.edu), government, (.gov), and organization (.org) sites
  • Increasing amount of scholarly resources (especially through Google Scholar)
 When to Use
  • For general academic research
  • To easily find credible information
  • To get a broad overview of a topic
  • To find information not available through the library
  • Scholars / Researches / Professionals
  • Anyone
  • Content is peer-reviewed for accuracy and credibility by subject experts, researchers, and publishers and reviewed and recommended by faculty and librarians
  • Must evaluate each source individually for accuracy and credibility
  • Free for (currently enrolled) students
  • Many are free, but some can only be accessed by purchasing individually or with a subscription
  • Advanced searching with many methods and limiters
  • Citation tool
  • Poor searchability; however, there are some advanced search methods
  • No citation tool

Adapted from the  Illinois Institute of Technology, Paul V. Galvin Library.