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Library Research Strategies

This page includes library research strategies that can help you locate academic resources.

Library Research Tools

Library Catalog  Search the catalog to locate books, eBooks, book chapters, reference and government materials, or media titles. Identifying topic-related books/ebooks can help you identify terminology, understand topic-related concepts, and help in understanding the scope of a topic. 

Library Databases Browse databases arranged by discipline/subject area. Most subject databases and multidisciplinary databases provide access to peer-reviewed journal articles. Some databases also provide access to government reports, books & ebooks, book chapters, newspaper articles, and conference papers.

Cited Reference Searching

One option to locate topic-related sources is to start with a high-quality source and look at the references to identify additional sources, You can also check to see if the source has been cited since it was published. This process is called cited reference searching.

Here is how it works. Start with a high-quality source, such as a peer-reviewed journal article or foundational source. Review the references that the author(s) cited to identify other high-quality sources that you might want to use. Next, check to see if other authors cited the original article since it was published. By looking at both older and more current topic-related sources, you can learn about the history of the topic and some of the current research conversations associated with the topic.  

Database & Catalog Searches

Field Searches

  • Common field searches can be used to search by Author, Title, Journal Title, Abstract, Subject or Descriptor searches
  • Keyword searches look for words Anywhere or within the full-text of documents
  • Subject or Descriptor searches look for terms that appear in specific fields in a document. They are often more precise than using keywords -- but you need to know the correct subject term(s) used by a database before searching
    • if a database includes a Thesaurus, you can browse terms to look for subjects that match your topic, or
    • you can start by using a keywords search (using words/phrases that describe your topic), browse the results, choose 2 or 3 that are relevant, check the Subject or Descriptor field for subject terms, and then redo your search using those terms

Common (Boolean) Search Strategies

  • Use AND to combine search terms related to main concepts of a topic
  • Example: "college students" AND achievement
  • Use OR to combine related terms or synonyms
    Example: "college students" AND achievement OR grades
  • Quotation marks -- add quotes to search for two or more words adjacent to one another
    Example: "united states" - "college students"
  • Add an asterisk* to find variations of words
    Example: achiev* (achieve, achievement, achievers)