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How to Navigate the Library

This guide provides an introduction to library resources and how to find, evaluate, use, and cite them.

Research Process Overview

Also see the How to Conduct Academic Research library guide for more information about how to conduct research.


steps of the research process


Image: "Online Library Orientation: The Research Process." Hillsborough Community College, 19 Mar. 2018, Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.

Search Basics

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

Need Research Help?

Research can be a tricky, sometimes confusing process. If you're stuck, lost, or just have a question, please contact us!

Choosing a Topic/ Search Term Generator

Look for Ideas

Start by brainstorming some potential topics to explore further.

  • Look through your syllabus or textbook for themes, concepts, or ideas that interest you, even if you haven't covered them in class yet.
  • Search the topic or name of your course in Google or a library article database. Check out any results that look interesting.
  • Think about your major or your hobbies. Do any of your personal interests overlap with the topic of the class?

Now that you have a potential topic in mind, find out a little more about it to make sure it will work for you.

  • Search for background information to get a general overview of the topic.
  • Sometimes what you find is not what you expected. Make sure the topic still sounds interesting, since you'll be spending a lot of time reading and writing about it.
Test the Topic

Check library article databases, such as Academic OneFile, to see if journalists or scholars have written about your topic in the popular press or academic journals.

Scope of Topic

Finally, you'll need to find the right scope for your topic. If it is too broad or too narrow, you may have difficulty covering it adequately in the length assigned for your research project.

  • Too broad - if you found too many results when testing the topic, you might need to choose a specific aspect to focus on. Try looking back in your background information for particular details that interest you.
  • Too narrow - if you had trouble finding any relevant information in a library database, think more broadly about the topic and what interests you. What are the larger concepts or ideas that your topic falls under?

From the University of Texas at Austin, check out this search term generator - How to Generate Keywords



Text: "Choose a Topic." University of Texas Libraries, 21 Dec. 2017,

Your Librarian

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Jane Lewandoski
Phone (810) 989-5640
Text (810) 515-7343