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 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.
Learn to think critically about the source of information and the information within each source by using the Evaluate Your Sources guide.
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. Think about the major concepts of your topic and which words are most likely to appear in sources on your topic. When you want to make sure that each word in your search appears in every source in your search results, use AND between the words:
If you want to find a specific phrase, with the words next to each other in order, use double quotation marks around the phrase:
To find either of two words or phrases, use OR between them. This is useful for synonyms or alternate spellings:
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, optic* will find the words optics, optical, optician, etc.
When combining searches, use parentheses ( ) around different parts of the search to ensure the correct order of operations. The examples below will give you very different results.
Use the first example to find the sources that contain either the word speed or the word velocity, and also contain the word light.
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.
Think of subject headings as labels or tags that someone has used to identify the subject of a book or article. In the Library catalog, the subject headings are standardized so that only one term is used for a specific subject. The Library Catalog for STLCC Libraries uses Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH). 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:
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