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Getting Started

The building block of a library database search is keywords. Keywords are central ideas or terms within your research question or problem. 

Once you have your keywords identified (2-3 is a good place to begin), you then need to connect them together in a way the database understands how to search. This is done using the Boolean search operators AND, OR, and NOT. Connecting keywords using these search operators creates a search string. 

  • AND - narrow search, used to combine terms together and focus search results
  • OR - broad search, used to includes results that contain similar or like words, such as synonyms
  • NOT - narrow search by exclusion, used to exclude results containing a particular keyword

We call the written version of your keywords with boolean search operators the search string. Writing your search string at the beginning of your research process will help you better approach searching in library databases.

Example search string
exercise OR physical activity AND high blood pressure OR hypertension AND treatment

Tips for Research

  1. Identify a clear and narrow thesis statement.
    Your thesis statement is your research roadmap. If specific and narrow, your thesis will guide exactly what kind of information you should find in your research. For example: A research paper about the effects of noise pollution from boating or shipping on marine mammals is more specific than the effects of ocean noise on marine ecosystems. With the narrower research topic, we know to look for information about boating or shipping travel, ocean noise pollution, and marine mammal auditory function. 
  2. Use scholarly sources for all stages of research, including definitions of terms.
    Library resources that can help with introductory material, definitions, and quick facts are encyclopedias and dictionaries available in the Reference Room and online such as Credo Reference and Oxford Reference Online.
  3. Use a variety of scholarly sources in your paper.
    Do not rely on the same few resources throughout your paper. Instead, find a variety of scholarly sources that help to support your thesis. Use the Bibliographies of articles to review a list of scholarship published on your topic. 
  4. Start your research with primary sources.
    Primary sources in scientific research are the actual research studies conducted by scientists within their field. These article should be easily identifiable by their clear sections: introduction, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion
  5. Always follow the trails of research from the information you consult.
    If a popular source magazine article, a secondary source journal article, or reports produced by organizations mentions a research study, track down the studies mentioned in these publications to find the original research
  6. Make sure all sources cited are relevant to your thesis.
    If your paper is about ocean noises effects on marine life, do not cite noise impact on humans, unless you can make the case why this is relevant to include. 

Types of Journal Articles

Watch the video to learn more about review articles v primary research articles, how to tell the difference between the two, and why each is useful for research.

Primary Research vs. Review

Scientist working in the lab under the title "primary research" and scientist speaking under the title "reviews"

The authors of the article conducted their own original research. The authors synthesize and analyze known research on a particular topic to discover trends.
Has a specific structure: introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, references Its structure can be changed depending on the topic studied.

Uses first and second person like "We discovered" or "I found"

Refers primarily to "this study" (singular)

Uses third person like "they discovered" or "Choi and Wilson concluded"

Refers to multiple studies

Its goal is to add a new contribution to scientific research. Its goal is to summarize current research, draw connections, and show gaps needing further research.