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How to do Research

Research is a process of inquiry: Asking questions, following the answers

Basic Searching Video Tutorial

Detailed Search Strategies for finding Articles

Choose the best database for your search based on two criteria:

1) The SUBJECT category for the information you need. Consider that some topics may be covered by more than one subject area. You could also choose an academic, multiple subject database.

2) The TYPE of information you need. Do you need general information, history, background? Reports? Pro / Con viewpoints or opinions? Do you need articles? Do you need scholarly or journal articles? Must the articles be peer-reviewed? Look at your research assignment handout for the class. Highlight the requirements for the research assignment. Keep it with you as you work on your research.

Go to the A-Z list of databases, linked below. You'll see a list of all the databases that the library subscribes to, listed in alphabetic order by title. You will see drop down selection boxes at the top of the page that allow you to sort the databases by subject, by type, or by vendor. You can choose more than one box which will find databases that meet all selected criteria.

For example, for a research topic about grass-fed beef vs. organic beef, where peer-reviewed journals articles are required, you would choose TYPE "Articles: Journals" and SUBJECT either "Academic-Multiple subjects" or "Health" or "Business" or "Science" or "Environment," depending on what emphasis or perspective you'd like to investigate.

Once you've chosen your databases, click the linked name to launch the database. If you are accessing from an off-campus or wireless device, you will first be prompted for your student ID number as your password. 

START WITH SIMPLE WORDS AND PHRASES that best describe your topic. You only need the most important words. When using internet search engines, you can type in an entire question and often find good results. But library databases work best if you can identify and focus on the most important SUBJECT of your search. See sample research question below:

Which has the most health benefits: grass fed beef or organic feedlot beef?

The most important words are highlighted in red. Simplifying that even further, the most important words are italicized. So, a good beginning search in the journal article database might be simply health and beef.

After running the search for your important topic words, your next step is to look for the best matching SUBJECT HEADINGS that are provided by the database. You can find subject headings two ways:

1)  Look for an article that seems a close match. Click the article link to view the detailed display. Look for the lists of Subject Headings that are assigned to that article. Choose the Subject Heading that is the best match for your search topic. The Subject Headings are active links, so you can click on the link, and the database will retrieve all the articles that are about that specific subject, See sample image below-

2)  Look for the section "Refine Results" or "Limit To" or similar; in the EBSCO databases these tools will be listed along the left side. Look for the "Subject" menu. In EBSCO, you need to click to open it. You will then see a list of Subject Headings, Choose the best matching subject headings by checking the check box. See screen snippet below-

Click the "Subject: Thesaurus Term" link to open that menu and see the suggested subject headings. Click the "Subject" link also. then, choose from the listed words the ones that best match your research topic, by checking the check box. See screen snippet below. From this list of subject headings, for the sample research topic of grass fed vs. organic beef, I would check the boxes for "health" and "beef." The numbers in parentheses show how many articles have those subject headings assigned.


Other limiters that can be helpful include:

Limit to full text. Sometimes, there's only a short summary of the article. This limiter will filter those out and display only those articles that have the full text available. Most CR Library databases will have this limiter set by default.

Limit by date, most recent, or oldest, or some other date range. Use the slider bar or advanced search. Because articles are sorted by RELEVANCE, to filter out older articles, you must use this limiter.

Limit to peer-reviewed, or academic journals. Some class assignments will require these sources. Journals also are more college level reading material and sources of information.




Choose the Advance Search option if you need more flexibility in combining search words and phrases, or if you want to search for articles by a specific author or by title. In this example, we want to experiment with more precise combinations of grass fed vs. organic beef, which may or may not also be grain fed, aka feedlot cattle.

Be sure to check the full text limiter box marked by the red circle and arrow. Otherwise, you will see results that only have a short summary of the article.

For this search, I have put "grass fed beef" into one search box, and "organic beef" into the second search box. Notice the combining word AND marked with the red circle and arrow. Using AND to combine two searches means that only those articles that have BOTH phrases will be retrieved. I could also choose (from the drop down arrow) to combine searches using the word OR, which would retrieve articles that had EITHER phrase. A third option is to use NOT, which would retrieve all articles with the first word or phrase, but NOT any articles with the second word or phrase.

ALL of the research databases provide options for you to PRINT, SAVE, or EMAIL, and also to CITE your search results. Usually, EMAIL option provides everything you need- the full text of the article and the citation. Look for the commands in the database program. If you like to collect links, look for the PERMALINK command. The URL from the browser location bar will not work. If you like to copy and paste only the relevant text or excerpt, remember to also collect the source information. You will need the source information in order to CITE the information correctly in your paper. If you can't cite it, you can't use it!

College of the Redwoods Library and Tutoring provide support and assistance for Modern Language Association (MLA) and for American Psychological Association (APA) citation format styles. The research databases can provide you with an initial draft formatted citation in either of these styles. You will need to proof-read these initial draft citations, using any of the sources listed below.