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A How-To Guide for Research: Locate

Identifying possible sources

Figuring out what kind of information you need is often the first step in deciding where to search.

1. Read your assignment carefully and see what resources your professor requires (e.g., three scholarly journals) and excludes (e.g., Wikipedia). If you are unclear, ask before you start the research process.

2. Consult background information to gain a greater understanding of your topic and pinpoint additional keywords for searching.

3. Identify the most relevant types of resources for your task - journals, newspapers, magazines, websites, books, encyclopedias, government reports, etc

4. Use the library's Research Guides to find relevant resources and which databases to search in different subject areas.

Understanding types of information sources

  • Blogs are a type of interactive journal where writers post and readers respond.
  • They vary widely in quality of information and validity of sources. For example, many prestigious journalists and public figures may have blogs, which may be more credible than most.
  • A group of World Wide Web pages usually containing hyperlinks to each other and made available online by an individual, company, educational institution, government, or organization  (Merriam-Webster)
  • Websites vary widely in quality of information and validity of sources (Purdue OWL).
  • Pay attention to the top-level domain: .edu and .gov tend to be more reliable sites. Use .orgs cautiously; they are not all non-profit groups. 
  • Examples: MedlinePlus.govKidsHealth.orgGo Ask
  • Media and content that uses a combination of different content forms (Wikipedia), like text, photographs, video, audio or interactive elements.
  • May be found in databases or through the open web using a search engine.
  • Examples: Radio and television broadcasts, user-generated video, interactive talks, podcasts.
  • Provides very current information about events, people, or places at the time they are published
  • Useful for information on current events or to track the development of a story as it unfolds
  • Examples: Louisville Courier-JournalThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalCNN
  • Include articles on diverse topics of popular interest and current events
  • Articles typically written by journalists or professional writers
  • Geared toward the general public
  • Examples: TimeNewsweekNational Geographic
  • Include articles written by and for workers in a particular field
  • Articles may have sources cited, but sometimes do not.
  • Geared toward people with knowledge or interest in a certain field.
  • Examples: Nation's Restaurant News, Nursing Times, Publishers WeeklyRealtor, Rock and Gravel Monthly
  • Include articles written by and for specialists/experts in a particular field
  • Most articles must go through a peer review process before they're accepted for publication
  • Articles tend to have a narrower focus and more analysis of the topic than those in other types of publications
  • Include cited references or footnotes at the end of research articles
  • Examples: American Anthropologist, ScienceJournal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
  • Collections of articles from journals and magazines that can be searched effeciently. Sometimes they include books and other sources, too.
  • Every database follows different rules for searching and storage. Effective use depends on knowing those rules. Some commercial databases provide only summaries of articles and do not include full text.
  • Databases can be very expensive and may not be accessible to the general public. You have access to several as a Sullivan student.
  • Examples: EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Opposing Viewpoints
  • Cover virtually any topic, fact or fiction
  • Useful for the complete background on an issue or an in-depth analysis of a theory or person
  • Can take years to publish, so may not always include the most current information
  • Examples: Inside Scientology, The Art of War, Who Moved my Cheese?
  • Include facts, figures, addresses, statistics, definitions, dates, etc.
  • Useful for finding factual or statistical information or for a brief overview of a particular topic.
  • Can be print or online
  • Examples: dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories

The Information Cycle

Additional resources for the Information Cycle & types of information

Knowing the difference between a database and a search engine is an important search basic. This clip explains the differences and when to use each tool.

Wikipedia logo

Wikipedia can be a great place to start your research when you know nothing about a topic. Particularly because it can show you some of the important keywords and issues associated with what you want to write about.

So while's it's OK to use Wikipedia for background information, it is almost never acceptable to use it as a source in an academic paper.

Search Wikipedia:  

Locating Articles

Think back to the keywords and terms you used on the Define tab. Keywords are words that can appear anywhere in an article including the title or the article text. You'll use keywords to search all of the library databases.   

Here are some tips for searching:

  • Identify a few keywords and search using only those words: computers, communication and 1990s.
  • Avoid slang. Searching kids will not get as many results as children, nor will searching the Net instead of Internet. 
  • Avoid natural language. Asking a database "How were computers used to communicate in the 1990s?" won't get you very good results.
  • Make sure terms are spelled correctly. Databases don't always correct spelling the way Google does. 
  • Use synonyms or terms that might mean the same thing. If you want to find articles about electronic mail, you should also search for the term email. 
  • Check your numbers: Try searching both nineteen nineties and 1990s to see how your results change. 
  • Use quotation marks to tell the computer to find certain words together as a phrase, such as "personal computers" or "electronic mail".
  • Do your background research: If you aren't sure about what keywords to use, consider reading an encyclopedia article on your topic to get ideas for other keywords.
  • Use Boolean Operators. These make your searches more successful. See the explanation below. 
  • Get help: If your searches aren't working, ask the library staff or your instructor for suggestions on keywords to use. 

EXAMPLE: This is not a good search for EBSCOhost because it poses a question rather than using keywords.


bad search

This is a much better search that focuses on keywords and makes use of Boolean Operators.


better search

Remember that most databases, like EBSCOhost, use a tool called Boolean Operators to search. The Boolean Operators are used to connect words together and tell the database to return results that contain some or all of those words. Here’s how the operators work:

  • AND tells the database to return only articles that contain all of your terms, such as computers AND communication AND 1990s. AND will narrow your search, or return fewer results.
  • OR tells the database to return articles that contain either of your terms, such as desktops OR "personal computers". OR will broaden your search, or return more results. OR is excellent for synonym or variations of a word (communicate OR communicator OR communication). 
  • NOT tells the database to exclude articles that contain a certain term 1990s AND computers NOT email. That would get you results that focused on ways computers were used in the 1990s other than for email. NOT will narrow your search, or return fewer results.

Why do Boolean Operators matter? Well, many databases assume that if you enter a bunch of words in a row, then you want articles that contain all of those words together. So the search ninteeen nineties computers communication would return only articles that have those four exact words right next to one another – probably not very many articles. This is called phrase searching.

One other tip about Boolean Operators? You MUST capitalize them – every letter. Or they won’t work!

Library databases frequently rely on Boolean Operators to connect search terms and find the best articles. This video shows you what Boolean Operators are. From Lexy Spry & Emily Wixson, Chemistry Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Steps for Successful Research (step 5)

Step 5: Gather Sources

Sources to use for an overview of topic:

  • General encyclopedias (Reference shelves, call number 031)
  • Subject encyclopedias (search catalog using subject term and encyclopedia; example: science and encyclopedia)
  • Subject dictionaries (search catalog using subject term and dictionary; example: computer and dictionary)
  • Magazines and newspaper articles from general interest periodicals


Sources to use for specialized information:

  • Books (search catalog for specific titles; browse call number location for related titles)
  • Scholarly journals (journals published for academics or professionals; holdings include print journals and electronic databases with full text)
  • Internet (use caution, must evaluate Internet sources for credibility, authority and currency).

 Keep track of sources used for citing documentation:

  • Write all publication information, pages used, etc.
  • Know what style format is required for citations

With your research completed, you are ready to start writing your paper! Consider browsing the Online Writing Center from Purdue University, a well-regarded source for writing and researching information.

Sources of background information