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How to Conduct Academic Research

This guide provides an introduction to the research process.

Search Strategies

A basic search is constructed using keywords, which together form your query.
The keywords you choose to include in your query will have a direct result on the search results.

 

Keys to conducting a good search include:

· Do some background research on your research topic to gather potential keywords and phrases. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauri and other reference materials will be helpful in learning the terminology used by professionals writing in the field.

· Conduct multiple types of searches. A keyword search will generally provide the most results, but not all results will be necessarily on topic. Try using a subject search, or try limiting your search by date or format. Use the Library of Congress system to find the cataloged items on a particular subject.

· Try searching a broad topic and then narrow down the search field by using supplementary links, and subject suggestions within the catalog & and the search within feature of the databases.

· Search multiple locations and look for a variety of sources. The SC4 catalog houses many formats including e-books, e-journals, streaming videos, DVD & VHS, reference books & circulating books. The library also subscribes to many academic databases, both broad in scope and subject specific.

· Combine words and phrases using the search strategies in this guide. Keep track of which terms you have searched, and of which combinations draw better results.

· Copy or save citations as you search for easier resource retrieval later.

 

These tips apply to all types of searching, whether you are using the SC4 Library Catalog, one of the Databases, or an Internet Search Engine.

If you need assistance, or feel a little lost – be sure to ask a SC4 Librarian for help!

 

Research game plan

Boolean Operators

One of the easiest ways to refine your search is to use the Boolean operators. The three most common Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT, but there are others available. The operators AND and NOT will narrow your search and OR will usually increase your search results. (The AND operator is not necessary in Google; Google automatically adds the AND between words unless a phrase is put in quotation marks.)

The chart below explains differences between the Boolean operators.

Boolean operator

Function

Example

AND

· Narrows search result

· Finds articles/websites with both terms in them. Terms may not necessarily be next to each other

"global warming" AND hurricane* (retrieves articles with both terms)

OR

· Broadens search result

· Use to combine similar terms. One or the other search term must appear in the article/website

· Put parentheses around your ORs

"global warming" OR "greenhouse effect" (retrieves articles with either term)

NOT

· Narrows search result

· Use to eliminate terms from search

"global warming" NOT Antarctica (eliminates articles that have the word Antarctica in them)

Phrase searching

Most of the databases and search engines will AND the words of a phrase together. If you wish to search the term as a phrase, put quotation marks around it to refine your search.

identity theft = identity AND theft

“identity theft” keeps the words of the phrase together

Truncation

Most databases use the asterisk * to truncate words. For example, child* will search for the words child or child’s or children. Another example is listed below.

develop* = develop + develops + development + developmental

Google automatically looks for the singular and plural of a word.

Combining some of the skills together

Some examples:

(dog OR dogs OR canine*) AND (kennel* OR board*) AND “port huron”

(ipad OR tablet) AND (evaluat* OR review*)

 

Google can be helpful for your research. Here are some ways to make sure you're getting the best you can out of it:

  • Use Google Advanced Search: next to the search box, click on Advanced Search. Use AND, OR, and NOT.
  • Use Google Scholar: go up to the top of the Google page, and click on the link "more." Choose Scholar from the list. Google Scholar will bring you back scholarly journal articles; we have access to the ones with links on the right!
  • Use Google Books: in the same place you clicked for Scholar, try Books. Some books are available online, full-text, in PDF!
  • Use your skepticism: don't forget that Google is primarily a company that exists to make money. Try going to the second and third results pages.

Other helpful tricks to use include:

  • Quotation Marks “” : Just like when searching in our databases you can use quotation marks to search ofr an exact set of words or name
    • “To infinity and beyond!”
  • Dashes - : Instead of the word “not” to remove a word from your search results google uses dashes before the word. Essentially you are subtracting the word from your search
    • Liberty - Justice
  • TILDE ~: You can  use the tilde to include synonyms in your search
    • Breakfast ~Pastry
  • SITE:www.query.com: This allows you to search only with in a specific site or type of site
    • SITE:GOV -Searches through only .gov websites
    • SITE: www.sc4.edu -Searches through only SC4.edu
  • Two Periods .. : This allows you to look for things within a range
    • Fashion 1940..1945: This gives you results that have the word fashion in it and any date between 1940 and 1945

 

Image: "Google Search Strategies." Research Process, Georgia Tech Library, 26 Sept. 2016, libguides.gatech.edu/researchprocess/researchprocess_searchstrategies. Accessed 24 May 2017.

Databases are a

"usually large collection of data organized especially for rapid search and retrieval (as by a computer)".

Basically, a database is an electronically organized catalog, index, and container for published information such as journal, newspaper, and magazine articles, as well as ebooks, streaming video and audio files.

A database is either general or subject/discipline specific and is searchable by keyword, subject, author, or title. 

A library database will provide scholarly and peer-reviewed sources that are appropriate to use for academic research and writing.

 

Most databases are searchable by keyword or subject.

You can also limit your results by publication date, by publication type, and by many other limiters in the drop-down box. Results can be refined by language, author, or other limiters. Some databases mix scholarly and non-scholarly sources, and will allow you to limit between the two.

Depending on the database you are using, articles may be displayed in different formats:

  • Citation: Includes only the article citation (i.e., author, title, date, etc.). Neither an abstract nor the full-text of the article are available.
  • Abstract: Includes the citation and a summary of the article's content. It does not include the full-text article.
  • Full-text: Includes the citation and full-text article. This may be in HTML, .pdf, or both formats.
  • If you need help searching the databases, please ask a librarian!

 

Our library guide "How to Use the Library Databases" covers this topic in more detail.

"Database." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 June 2017.

Look for the following:

  • An Abstract is at the beginning of the article. This is a summary of the researchers/authors' study methods, arguments, conclusions, and more.
  • Author(s) - Scholarly articles often have two or more authors. The authors' credentials, affiliations, and other information is usually listed on first page of the article, under the title or sometimes on the last page of article.
  • Headings/Sections in the article include:
    • Introduction -- Usually one paragraph, sometimes more, describing the subject of the article
    • Methodology --  Provides information about how data was collected, what data was gathered, and who participated in the study
    • Discussion/Results -- Offers information about the results of the study and what was learned
    • Conclusion -- Summarizes the findings of the research/study and any recommendations or limitations of the study
    • References/Bibliography -- Detailed list of references used in the research is generally found at the end of the article
  • Technical/Specialized Language - Scholarly articles are generally written in formal, technical language.
  • Charts, Graphs, Diagrams, etc. - Scholarly articles are often communicating results of studies and research and so will include charts, graphs, diagrams, and other visual aids.
  • Length - Scholarly articles are usually relatively long; often they are four pages or more.
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