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Steps to Effective Research

Searching Databases Effectively


Keywords – the most important search tool

1)            Define your search

2)            Think of synonyms for your terms

3)    Combine keywords with AND, OR, NOT

4)    Put double quotes around phrases to keep the words together during your search.

                  Example: “tai chi” and “muscle activation”

5)            Add an asterisk to pull in more words – called truncation

                  Note: enter as many letters as possible before truncation.

                  Example: therap* matches therapy, therapies, therapeutic, therapeutics, therapeutically


If you get too many results, try adding a third concept to your search. For example:

”tai chi” and “muscle activation” and knees

Research Tips

Brainstorm possible search terms
Break up long phrases into separate search terms.                                                                                         

ANDs and ORs and NOTs
Combine your search terms with these connecting terms (called "Boolean operators"). Use AND to narrow a search and OR to broaden a search.

Do preliminary searches before settling on a topic
Don't assume there will be a lot of information on your topic. Do a few searches before committing to a topic. You may find that you need to narrow or broaden your topic.

Focus on scholarly sources
Use primarily scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Such articles are typically not freely available on the Web and cannot be found by searching Internet search engines like Google or Yahoo. 

Books vs. articles
Books may be helpful for background information and for familiarizing yourself with a topic. Articles can provide more current information and typically address a very narrow piece of a topic. The scope of your assignment will determine what types of sources are best.

Keep a log of your search process
Keep track of what sources and search terms "work" and which ones do not. 

Cite as you go
Even if you're not sure whether you will use a source, it's much easier to note the citation information up front than to decide you need it later!

For more, visit the Library Tutorials page.

Evaluating Research Resources


  • Are your sources accurate and reliable? Check for footnotes and/or a list of references. These references should substantiate statements made by the author.

  • Is the author objective? Look for signs that the author is unbiased and objective. If the author is a spokesperson for a particular interest group or is expressing a personal opinion, take that into account when evaluating the source.

  • Is the author competent? Does the source provide information about the author? Does the author have the credentials to be an authority on the subject?

  • Who published the book or article? Publishers of professional and scholarly books and articles make sure that the information in those sources is reliable. Many scholarly journals have a rigorous review process in which scholars in the field review the article prior to publication. This process is known as "peer review". Popular publications such as newspapers and magazines can still be useful but should be evaluated carefully for accuracy.

  • Are your sources current? Depending upon your topic, you may need the most recent information available. Check the date of publication and see if there are references to current statistics, findings, or events.