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Step-by-Step Guide & Research Rescue: Finding Articles

This guide will help you understand how to efficiently and effectively do basic research.

Keyword Searching

Most of the databases you will come across have a search bar option that is highly reminiscent of Google-type searches, where you can type in entire sentences and retrieve results that are at least somewhat relevant. Database searching is much more selective, however, and will be most effective if you can narrow your topic into concepts.

One method you can use is a chart like the chart below, organizing your topic into 2 or 3 concepts.

            (Concept 1) _______________ OR ________________(Synonymous terms dealing with Concept 1)

            (Concept 2) _______________ OR ________________ (Synonymous terms dealing with Concept 2)

            (Concept 3) _______________ OR ________________ (Synonymous terms dealing with Concept 3)

Using the first example from the Narrowing Your Topic section on the last page, you can break up your research topic into basic concepts such as:

                           (Concept 1) "speech impairment*" OR "articulation impairment*"

                           (Concept 2) sibling* OR brother* OR sister*

Databases offer some unique search options to narrow or broaden your search. Add quotation marks around phrases to retrieve that exact phrase. Add the truncation symbol to the end of root words to retrieve multiple word endings. For example, the truncation symbol for most databases is the asterisk * (for multiple characters -- metho* will retrieve results for method, methods, methodology, etc.) and the question mark ? (for single characters -- wom?n will retrieve results for woman or women).

Use the key terms you come up with as your entries in the database search engine. If you are searching multiple concepts simultaneously, use the Advanced Search function and separate each concept on individual lines.

If your search does not return any results, first check your spelling. Secondly, check your search terms. Most databases have a Subject Terms/Thesarus feature where you can enter your concepts and determine if you are using the correct terms that will be recognized by the database.

BOOLEAN Operators (Search Connecter Terms)

Another aspect of searching within scholarly databases is using connector terms, most commonly Boolean operators. These terms allow you to refine your results by expressing the results that you do or do not want to find. There are three main operators:

AND: requires results to include both terms specified, used to connect concepts; e.g dogs AND eating habits
OR: will retrieve results that can include any of the terms specified, used for synonymns; e.g. Great Dane OR St. Bernard
NOT: will limit results to exclude the term you specify; e.g. dogs NOT prairie

Limiting Your Results

Once you have entered your search terms, the database(s) you are searching in will retrieve all the results that have the keywords you specified somewhere in the article. Many times this will pull up thousands of results, far too many to reasonably read through to find the most relevant articles. Luckily, databases provide limiters to help make your searching even more refined.

Term Headings
The database allows you to choose where in the results you want the term to appear. The default is usually to find the term anywhere in the article, no matter how brief the mentioning. A few basic options that are available in most databases include:

  • SUMMARY or ABSTRACT - The term must appear in the main summary of the article
  • SUBJECT - The term must be one of the selected subject terms for the article, denotes a main topic
  • TITLE - The term must appear in the heading, creating a very narrow search
  • AUTHOR - Allows you to search for a specific author

Peer Reviewed
This option allows you to select only articles than have gone through an intense review process by other professionals and scholars in that specific field. During this process they look at the information presented and the manner it is presented in to make certain that it is correct and properly represented.

Date Range
The field of academics is changing constantly with some information becoming outdated very quickly as newer research brings different results, so you may want to consider limiting the date range to include only the most relevant sources for your topic.

Source Types
With this limiter you can narrow your results to only specific types of resources, such as academic journals, periodicals, newspapers, books, etc.

Subject Headings
Many databases give additional subject headings in addition to the terms that you entered, allowing you to refine your search without having to come up with new search terms on your own.

Accessing Articles

For help and information on accessing the full text of your articles, check out the Accessing and Storing Your Sources page.

General Article Databases

Subject Guides

For subject specific databases, reference materials, and searching tips, check out the
Subject Guides

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