Identify and define your topic. Put your research topic into a question such as, "What is the debate surrounding vaccination refusal?" Now you can identify the main concepts and keywords, including alternate terms, for your topic.
Background reading will deepen your understanding and vocabulary around the topic, which will help you identify search terms and develop an effective research question. Subject encyclopedias (in print or in Credo Reference) are excellent resources.
Use Search It! or the library classic catalog to find books. Use your keywords to perform both keyword and subject searches.
Use Search It! or individual databases to find journal articles. Be sure to choose appropriate databases for your topic.
Search for reliable and authoritative website resources. Try the librarian recommended websites on this guide.
Always evaluate what you find. Consider timeliness, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose.
Cite your sources. Citing gives proper credit to the authors of materials you use and allows your professors to verify your conclusions.
As you become a practiced researcher, you will discover that the research process is never linear. It can be messy. Expect and welcome twists and turns, keep an open mind, and keep asking questions throughout the process. Use many different kinds of search tools and resources, and conduct many different kinds of searches. Research can be fun, and it is a useful and valuable skill to learn. It is helpful to develop the mindset of an explorer.
Keyword searching is used by internet search engines, databases, and the library catalog. Keep in mind that the search will find matches for specific words, not concepts. The default in the library catalog (and most databases) is find results that include every word in your search. Think of this as using AND between the words:
The two searches above are the same, and will find all books in the library catalog that have both words in the description of the book.
If you want to find a specific phrase, with the words next to each other in order, use double quotation marks around the phrase:
You might want to broaden your search to include synonyms or other related words. To find either of two words or phrases, use OR between them:
You can also use truncation to search for different forms of a word. The asterisk * is used in the library catalog and many databases for this.
In the above searches, evolut* will find the words evolution, evolutionary, etc. Evolv* will find evolve, evolves, evolving, etc. Horse* will find horse or horses.
When combining searches, use parentheses () around different parts of the search, as in the examples above.
Think of subject headings as labels or tags that someone has used to identify the subject of a book or article. The subject headings are standardized so that only one term is used for a specific subject. You can search directly by subject, or click on a subject heading in the description of a book you find by keyword searching. Instead of a list of search results, you'll get a list of subject headings to choose from. Here are a few examples:
Search Limits allow you to narrow your searches either to availability of articles or article type or date of publication. Search limits can be found beneath the search boxes on both Basic and Advanced Searches, though Advanced Searches may give you more limits to work with.
Advanced Searching is an excellent option to switch to before even beginning a search. In an advanced search, generally, the database provides several search boxes already connected with the word "AND" and often presents even more limit options.
Evaluating the information you find, whether in print or digital format, is an essential aspect of doing research.
Learn to think critically about the source of information and the information within each source by using the Evaluate Your Sources guide (linked below). Once acquired, the habit of critical analysis will serve you in everything you read.
St. Louis Community College Libraries
Florissant Valley Campus Library
Forest Park Campus Library
Meramec Campus Library
Wildwood Campus Library