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.
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 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.
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.
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 all three 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, decor* will find the words decor, decorate, decorates, decorating, decoration, etc.
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. Do you call it "Interior Design" or "Interior Decoration"? Following the Library of Congress Subject Headings standard, we use Interior Decoration in the STLCC Library Catalog. 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. Look for search limits after you have conducted an initial keyword search. 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.
The Full-text limit is very useful, as selecting it ensures that you will only see articles on your result page which have the complete text of the article included. Unless you are required to find everything out there is published on a given subject, this limit should be applied every time you search.
Date limits are especially useful when you are looking for articles that are no older than a certain date.
The Scholarly Journals or Peer-Reviewed Journals limit may be useful too, if those are the only type of articles you wish to see.
The Subject limit will help you narrow your results to items that are clearly focused on a particular subject of interest.
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.
St. Louis Community College Libraries
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