Keep an open mind. You may need to refine your topic, ask new questions, and repeat steps as you go along.
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 ArcherSearch or the library catalog to find books.
Use ArcherSearch or individual databases to find articles from magazines, journals and newspapers. Choose appropriate databases for your topic.
Search for credible 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.
The quality of your research depends largely on the questions you ask. Practice asking a lot of them. Adopt the mindset of an explorer or investigator. What qualities and characteristics do successful explorers and investigators have? Develop a plan; where will you start? As you begin to explore, you will discover that research 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.
Developing your research skills will enable you to identify a problem, collect informational resources that can help address the problem, evaluate these resources for quality and relevance, and come up with an effective solution to a problem. Research skills develop critical thinking and equip you to write better research papers and craft better speeches. You will also improve problem solving skills required to tackle issues in your personal life and in the workplace.
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:
is the same as:
The two searches above are the same, and will find items in the library catalog and databases that have both words in the description. AND will narrow your search and bring you fewer, but probably more relevant, results.
If you want to find a specific phrase, with the words next to each other in order, use double quotation marks around the phrase:
This will also narrow your search.
However, 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:
OR will broaden your search and bring you more results.
To exclude a term, use NOT. Results will reflect records (descriptions) of sources that include the first, but not the second term:
Creationism NOT "Old Earth"
AND, OR, and NOT are called Boolean Operators. They can be used individually or combined to build detailed searches. When combining searches, use parentheses () around different parts of the search, as in the example below. Be sure to follow distribution logic if you combine them!
politics and (creationism OR "intelligent design")
You can also use truncation to search for different forms of a root word, such as poe* to find poem, poems, poetry, poet, and poets. Beware, though, you may also find unrelated results. Instead, you may want to use both OR and a truncation device for aapoet* OR poem*. You can use a wildcard to look for alternate letters within a word, such as wome*n to find woman as well as women. The asterisk * is used in the library catalog and many library databases for both the wildcard (one letter within a word) or the truncation device (ending of the word).
Combine the keyword search strategies to help make your search more pertinent to your topic:
politic* and (creationis* OR "intelligent design") and wom*n
Think of subject headings as labels or tags that someone has used to identify the subject of a book or an article. The subject headings are standardized so that only one term is used for a specific subject. Should you search for "death penalty" or "capital punishment" or "capital sentences"? St. Louis Community College Libraries follow the Library of Congress Subject Heading as standards. You can search directly by subject, or click on a subject heading in the description of a book you find by keyword searching.
Results from your keyword searches will help you identify appropriate subject headings. Below are some subject headings found with the keyword search (creationis* OR "intelligent design"):
Use the filters or limits to see just a subset of your search results. Depending on the tool you are using, search limits may show up in the left margin, at the top of the results, or below the search box.
Date limits are especially useful to filter out older, outdated material. You can usually choose a preset limit such as "current 5 years," or set a custom range of publication dates.
This will limit to only journals that publish articles that have undergone a rigorous peer-review process. These are usually articles that report on a specific study, analysis, experiment, or other piece of the research. Some scholarly/peer-reviewed articles are systematic reviews which survey a wide range of published peer-reviewed articles to give an overview of the current state of knowledge on the topic.
The Subject limit will help you narrow your results by subject terms. These are like tags or labels; they indicate that the book, article, or other source focuses on the subject of interest. Without this limit, you may find items that include your search words but are not about your topic. Keep in mind that different databases may use different subject terms.
The Full-text limit is already applied for most searches. It is very useful to filter out articles where you only have access to a citation or a description of an article, not the full the full article. Unless you are required to find everything out there is published on a given subject, this limit should be applied every time you search. If you do find resources that are not full text but would be useful to you, STLCC Libraries may be able provide them. See the Borrowing from Other Libraries page for details and the form for requests.
Learn to think critically about the source of information and the information within each source by using the Evaluate Your Sources guide.
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