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Physics: Home

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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
gravity OR gravitational field AND supernova OR stellar collision AND black hole

Types of Journal Articles

Primary research articles are where the authors of the article conducted their own original research in a laboratory, out in the field, etc. The published article, usually published in a peer-reviewed journal, is the detailed write-up of the research the authors conducted during their study. There are different kinds of primary studies. Other terminology for describing different kinds of studies include: experimental studies, clinical trials, empirical studies, and more.

Review articles, also called literature reviews or secondary sources, synthesize known research on a particular topic and analyze this research to discover possible trends or areas for further study in the field. Review articles summarize the current state of research on a particular topic. 

How to Identify a Primary Research Article

Library databases (see the databases tab for more details) can be used for finding a variety of scholarly articles. The trick is recognizing what you are looking at once you run a search. Look for these clues to discover if your article is a primary research study:

  • It's all in the language
    Review the abstract of the article and the introduction. Look for language such as "in this study...," "we conclude...," "the results of this study..." This "we" language is a good indication that the authors who wrote the article were also the primary researchers in the study. 
  • It's in the structure
    Primary research articles usually follow a structure that is designed to take the reader from start to finish of the study conducted. Look for the following components in the actual article itself: introduction, literature review, methods/methodology, results, discussion, conclusion, references. Not all primary research articles will have this exact combination of parts, but it should always report on methodology used for the study and provide a results section reporting on the data gathered.