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Outreach: Introduction to College Research: Easy Research

The Easy Way

There is an easy way to find everything that you need for your research!  If you learn a few library basics, you can research more productively, more efficiently and more quickly!

Types of Library Resources and When to Use Them

Starting Points - Background information for the first stages of research.

1. Books.  Broad coverage of a topic that usually addresses multiple aspects or perspectives.

2. Reference Books. Encyclopedias and dictionaries with very short entries.  A condensed overview of your topic in ten pages or fewer.

3. Ebooks. 24-7 online books.  Contain the same content as a regular book, just digitized.

4. Online Educational Films.  24-7 online full-length documentary style videos (PBS, BBC, etc.).

Advanced Research - After you have narrowed your interest to a specific topic. 

5. Online Article Databases. 24-7 online collection of millions of magazines, newspapers, scholarly peer-reviewed journal articles and more.  Be very specific when you search databases.  For example, instead of searching for diabetes, try searching for "childhood obesity" AND diabetes.  Other boxes on this page will give you tips for searching.

6. Online Government Resources.  Good for statistics, reports, etc.  The government publishes information on every topic imaginable, from agriculture and finance to employment and suicide rates.  Government websites, unlike .org and .com sites, are reliable sources of information.

The best strategy is to use a variety of resources!  Start with books, ebooks, reference and videos, then move to databases and government information.

Identify Search Terms

To perform searches, you will need keywords.

Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic... How should freedom of speech be protected relative to the Patriot Act?

First we'll eliminate irrelevant words like “how should” and “relative to”.  The databases will search for every word that you type into the searchbox, so try to keep your search simple.  When you eliminate the irrelevant words from your research question, you should be able to spot major concepts.  The two major concepts in our example are Patriot Act and Freedom of Speech.

Now, let's take each of those and come up with as many synonyms (or related ideas) as we can.

Patriot Act – Patriot Act, National Security

Freedom of Speech – Freedom of Speech, Free Expression, First Amendment, privacy, etc.

Finally, we simply combine any one of the Patriot Act terms with any one of the Freedom of Speech terms using the search connector AND. 


1.      “Patriot Act” AND “Freedom of Speech”

2.      “national security” AND privacy

3.      “Patriot Act” AND “First Amendment”

Different combinations of search terms will give you very different results, so you may want to try several different search strategies to see which gives you the best results.  See the box at the top of the right column for more ways to connect your keywords.

Combine Search Terms

Search connectors help you to find the exact information you are looking for. Here are some examples of database searches using connectors, with explanations of what they will find.

cats AND dogs

This will only find articles that mention both cats and dogs.  Use AND to connect major concepts.

Cats AND dogs

cats OR dogs

This will find every article that mentions cats and every article that mentions dogs, including the articles that mention both. Different articles will use different terminology to describe the same concept, so you might use OR to search for similar concepts (e.g., cats OR felines).

cats OR dogs

cats NOT dogs

This will find only those articles that mention cats but never mention dogs. Conversely, searching for dogs NOT cats would find articles that mention only dogs.  Use NOT with caution!  There might be great articles about cats that mention dogs one or two times.  These will be eliminated in a search for cats NOT dogs.

cats NOT dogs

"black cats"

Putting quotation marks around a search phrase will find only articles that contain that exact phrase. This search would find articles that have the phrase "black cats" somewhere in the text.  A search for the same phrase without quotation marks will find each word separately in the article, so the words might appear in completely different parts of the article.

black cats in quotation marks

Developing a Search Strategy Helpsheet

With this helpsheet, you can develop an effective search strategy that will save you time and retrieve better results!