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Research Tips and Techniques

Use the following strategies to more quickly and efficiently find library/Internet resources. Ask for help at the reference desk at any time.

Step 1:  Clearly define your research need:

  • What do you need or want to know? 
         "Is there a connection between global warming and extreme weather?" 
  • How much information do you need or want?       
         "Information for a 5-8 page research paper"
  • Use general library resources, such as encyclopedia articles, texts, or books to better understand your topic before you begin your research.

Step 2:  Start your search

Books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and media available in your library and in other Utah libraries
Use:   Stewart Library Catalog
Use:   Other Utah library catalogs 

Articles from scholarly journals, magazines and newspapers    
Use: Article databases

Websites, documents, data, images, and other media available on the Internet
Use: Internet Search Engines

For more help
Use: Online library guides and tutorials

Step 3:  Carefully select your search terms

  • Keywords
Use the most specific words to describe your topic including synonyms and alternate terms, such as abbreviations and scientific terms. 

Is there a connection between global warming and extreme weather?

Search terms:

global warming    climate change    climatic changes     greenhouse effect

extreme weather    floods    flooding    hurricanes     drought     tornadoes

  • Use Controlled Vocabulary

Database descriptors, the Library of Congress Subject Headings, or other thesauri gather information on the same topics together and may contain other useful words for your research.  Ask the library reference staff for help in finding thesauri.

  • Use advanced search techniques 

    Truncation is used to expand results by instructing the computer to look for the root of the word and all alternate word endings.

flood*   searches for flood, flooded,  floods,  flooding

Truncation symbols may differ depending on the database or engine you are using. Common truncation symbols are:  

 * (an asterisk)

? (a question mark)

# (the pound sign)

Use Boolean operators to produce more relevant search results by combining search terms.

          The principal Boolean operators are: AND -  OR -  NOT

  • Use AND to combine different concepts together. This will reduce search results.

global warming AND extreme weather

          In search engines use the + symbol (+"global warming" +"extreme weather")

  • Use OR to gather references that contain similar terms or synonyms. This will increase search results.

extreme weather OR flood* OR tornado* OR drought

  • Use NOT to exclude terms. Use this sparingly as it may remove useful search results.

extreme weather NOT drought

          In search engines use the - symbol ("extreme weather"-drought)

Hint:  Some databases, especially online library catalogs, use AND automatically. For example, if you enter global warming, it will search for the words global AND warming, but not necessarily for the words to be next to each other.

Phrase or Adjacency Searching
Some databases and search engines will enable you to search for an exact phrase or words in the same sentence or paragraph (proximity search).

Search for a phrase: "greenhouse effect" (use quotations)

Use the online help for each database or search engine for phrase and proximity searching.  See Power Searching for Anyone for more details on effective use of search engines.

Step 4:  Carefully and accurately record your findings

Step 5:  Critically evaluate the information you find

  • Is the resource useful, well written, up to date and/or at an appropriate level for your need?
  • Don't waste time on less useful resources
  • Remember the Internet is a self publishing medium and contains a huge range of data, including useless and offensive materials

Step 6:  Get help whenever you need it

  • Ask for help from your Instructor
  • Use "HELP" screens and other online help when available
  • Ask for assistance from the Library Reference Staff as needed.
  • Don't waste time or get too frustrated before asking for help
Updated March 5, 2009 . Please send comments to JaNae Kinikin, Physical & Applied Sciences Librarian
Weber State University, Stewart Library. Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved.

Stewart Library - Weber State University - Ogden, Utah 84408. (801) 626-6403 - Copyright © 2008 ALL Rights Reserved