Skip to main content

Effective Searching: Getting Started with Research

This guide offers some basic searching tips using Boolean logic and other searching tricks.

Getting Started with Research

Research is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions." Throughout college you will be required to do research and write papers for most of your classes providing you with an opportunity to learn a valuable set of skills. The ability to locate, evaluate and reinterpret information, which is the essence of research, is a life skill and large part of what your college experience is about.

There are several steps and hints that can make the research process more manageable.  This guide is designed to help you in your quest to find the right sources. Our goal at USC Upstate it to help make people Information Literate, that is people who can use the library and do research effectively. As with most things the more you practice the better you get, research is a skill that must be practiced and developed. 

 "Research." Research: Definition of Research in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US). Oxford University Press. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. 

Make sure to write down all of the bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) or enter the information into your computer or a citation management software so you can find it later. REMEMBER that any source without bibliographical information is useless - if you can't cite the source you can't use the source.

At USC Upstate, we teach information literacy, or the research process, in three first-year courses: University 101, English 101, and English 102. The following Information Literacy Standards and Learning Outcomes are taught across the three courses. The five Standards are a good frame for the research process.

Information Literacy Standards and Learning Outcomes for First-Year Students

information literacy standards infographic: Topic Search Evaluate Choose and CiteInformation Literacy is . . .

  • A way of defining and thinking about the Research Process
  • A life skill needed for your college career and beyond
  • Above all, a PROCESS

The information literate student . . .

1. Knows the nature and extent of the information needed.

  • Chooses and focuses a topic
  • Develops a thesis statement or research question
  • Reads background information on the topic
  • Recognizes that knowledge can be organized into disciplines that influence how information is produced and accessed
  • Distinguishes and chooses information intended for scholarly or popular audiences published in books, journal and magazine articles, or on the Internet as appropriate to the topic

2. Accesses the needed information.

  • Knows when to use the library catalog, article and reference databases, or the Internet to find and retrieve print and electronic books and articles, web pages, and other documents
  • Knows how to refine searches by using a range of search strategies, including subject terms, Boolean logic, truncation, advanced search screens, and other aids available in an online catalog or database
  • Understands the organization of information in the physical library and online
  • Accesses the best available information for the research need regardless of format

3. Evaluates information and its sources critically.

  • Examines and compares information from various sources to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias
  • Summarizes main ideas, analyzes structure and logic of arguments, and recognizes bias
  • Synthesizes main ideas, reconciles differences, and selects usable information from sources consulted

4. Uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.

  • Selects information to include in final product
  • Cites, quotes or paraphrases sources appropriately and accurately
  • Organizes paper, presentation or other project appropriately and effectively
  • Demonstrates whether a hypothesis is valid or a research question has been answered

5. Uses information ethically.

  • Uses standard techniques of quotation and documentation
  • Demonstrates an understanding of what constitutes plagiarism

Adapted from: Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Chicago: Association of College & Research Libraries, 2000.

1. Identifying and developing a topic.

  • Read your assignment and find the key elements and requirements for your assignment.  Make sure to know the approved topics and no-no subjects. If you have questions ASK your professor!
  • Choose a topic that you are interested in, your attitude towards the topic will show in the amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into your research and final paper.
  • Select a subject you can manage, be careful of subjects that are too technical, very broad or extremely focused or narrow.
  • Turn your topic into a question, ask yourself “What do I want to know?”.
    • For example, if you want to know more about how women and men communicate with each other you might ask "What are the communication differences between men and women?"
  • When the topic is selected, find the “key words” in the question and write them down. Then brainstorm all the possible word related to your topic (Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find additional keywords, synonyms and related words. Also think about the singular, plural, and other endings of words.)

What are the communication differences between men and women?

communication

differences

men (man)

women (woman)

discourse

contrast

male

female

relationship(s)

similarities

gender

sex

2. Finding supporting & background information using reference materials.

  • Use encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference materials to find background information.  Look for timelines, history, key figures and other supporting elements in your topic.
  • If you topic is very broad you may use this information to help you focus your topic. Ask yourself the 5 W questions to help you think about your topic.
    • For example to focus the topic of Obesity ask yourself:
      • Who? children, adults, ethnic groups
      • What? prevention, nutrition, insurance
      • Where? United States, South Carolina, urban areas
      • When? current, historic
      • Why? health aspects, social aspects

Try some of our online Reference Materials

3. Finding books using the library catalog.

  • Use keyword searching for a narrow or complex search topic or to learn the Library of Congress Subjects.
  • Use subject searching to narrow down a broad subject, look at the root Library of Congress Subject (Obesity) then look at the subdivisions listed after that topic (Obesity – Prevention).
Obesity
Obesity -- Health aspects -- South Carolina -- Columbia   
Obesity -- Nutritional aspects.  
Obesity -- Prevention -- United States.  
Obesity -- Psychological aspects.
Obesity in children.
Obesity in children -- Prevention.
Obesity in children -- Psychological aspects.
Obesity in children -- United States.
Obesity in women -- Psychological aspects.
Screen capture of Catalog entry explanation showing title, call number, Status, and LCSubjects
  • When you find a book make sure to:
  1. Note the Title of the book
  2. Note the Call number of the book
  3. Note the Circulation Status
  4. Look at the LC Subjects listed with that book
  • After pulling the book from the shelf, use the index and table of contents to locate specific pages of useful information

Image of Table of Contents and Index

USC Upstate Library Catalog
Advanced Keyword Search

4. Using Article Databases to finding articles.

  • First start with General Subject Databases such as Academic Search Complete
    • try some key word searches (remember the list from step 1?)
    • find some subject words related to your topic
  • You may want to try other databases depending on the depth and level of research.
  • If the full text is not available, check Full Text Finder to see if the title is available in print format in the library or from another database. You can also Ask-A-Librarian for help finding full text for articles
  • If your article is not available in full text then use the Interlibrary Loan service. 

IF your assignment requires that you only use scholarly or peer reviewed articles, save yourself some time by checking any boxes that allow you to limit your search to these types of articles.

Examples of Subject Terms from an article about obesity in school children

Subject Terms:

 

 

 

 

*OBESITY in children -- Prevention
*ACADEMIC medical centers
*HEALTH education
*MEDICAL cooperation
*MEDICAL screening
*OBESITY in children
*SCHOOL administration
*BODY mass index

5. Internet Resources

 Often, starting your research journey with a few Google searches can help you find some basic background information as well as focus your topic.  REMEMBER not all professors want you to USE that research in your paper so make sure to check your assignment.  If you can use web resources, then cautiously search online for reputable and reliable web sources. The trouble with the internet is that there is very little control of the content available.  Basically anyone can make a website and upload information that may not even be accurate or even true.  

Make sure to evaluate your resource using either the S.T.A.A.R. or ABC methods and only rely on quality resources. The video below uses the C.R.A.A.P. method to evaluate sources, which is a valid method but I don't want to encourage you to find C.R.A.A.P. I think you should find a S.T.A.A.R.

6. Assembling Research

In your paper/research project you will use sources such as books, articles, government documents, web pages, or other types of sources to gain knowledge of your topic and support the statements you make.  You will need to use that information ethically and give credit where credit is due.  When you find information from a source you should rephrase it into your own words and only use exact quotations when a phrase is unique.  You should keep a record of all the information you will need from each source for your bibliography. Even if you are unsure whether you will use a resource you should keep the information for the citation, just in case.  Citations are designed to show others your research path and gives credit to other people’s work and ideas.  


Using someone else’s work from Ethical Use of Information Research Guide

Any time someone else's work is used, it is ethical to give credit to the original creator.  This takes the form of a citation which indicates who the original creator is and where the item was found.

When using someone else's work in your own without giving credit, you are essentially indicating that you created it.  This is called plagiarism.

Plagiarism Quick-Guide

Terms to Know

Plagiarism:   Using other people’s words and ideas without clearly acknowledging the source of the information

Common Knowledge:   Facts that can be found in numerous places and are likely to be widely known.
Example:   John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States in 1960.  
This is generally known information- You do not need to document this fact

Interpretation:  You must document facts that are not generally known, or ideas that interpret facts.  
Example: Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever to have played the game.  This idea is not a fact but an interpretation- You need to cite the source

Quotation:  Using someone’s words directly.  When you use a quote, place the passage you are using in quotation marks, and document the source according to a standard documenting style.
Example:  According to John Smith in The New York Times, “37% of all children under the age of 10 live below the poverty line”.

Paraphrase:  Using someone’s ideas, but putting them in your own words.  Although you will use your own words to paraphrase, you must still acknowledge the source of the information

Strategies for Avoiding Plagiarism 

  1. Submit your own work
  2. Put quotations around everything that comes directly from the text, especially when taking notes.
  3. Paraphrase, but be sure that you are not simply rearranging or replacing a few words
  4. Keep a source journal, notepad, note cards- annotated bibliographies can be especially beneficial
  5. Use the style manual assigned for the class
  6. Get help from the writing center or library

"Ethical Use of Information." Research Guide. Ed. Margaret Driscoll. John Spoor Broome Library, 7 July 2015. Web 27 Oct. 2015.

7. Synthesis of Information – Pulling it all together

Research and sources alone do not make for an effective paper, facts are just facts. You will want to combine your ideas and research to see how they relate to one another and how they form a new idea or point.  Your paper should take the details, information, ideas and explanations from all of your resources and they should be combined, integrated and mixed with your own thoughts and conclusions about the question you have researched to create a cohesive paper.  Keeping your research question in mind your paper should form a unified whole that conveys your perspective and the evidence from your research that logically supports it.

Once you decide what information to use in your paper you will need to work that information into your paper.  There are 3 general ways to do this:

  • Quotation (be careful not to over use quotations, save them for unique information or if you want to make a point by stating words from an expert.)
  • Summary (after reading the information offer an abridged version of the concept, that is keep the key concepts and main ideas but keep in the original “voice”)
  • Paraphrase (paraphrase literally means to tell in other words so you will offer the concepts and ideas in your own voice)
    • The difference between paraphrasing and summarizing is basically the objective. Summarizing is to make shorter where paraphrasing is turning the information into something different from the original
    • No matter how you use the information make sure you use proper citation styles to give credit to the original information.

8. Choosing the Appropriate Citation style or Reference System

There are many different citation styles that each address the needs of distinctive disciplines. Each of these styles require the same basic information but the order, syntax and style of that information varies. Different styles emphasize different elements of a source showing priorities and readability of key information. There are also two major divisions within most citation styles: documentary-note style and parenthetical style. Documentary-note style offers foot notes or end notes to the information where parenthetical style or “in-text” is where references to sources are made in the body of the work itself, through parentheses.

Seldom will you be the one choosing the reference system you use in your research paper – almost always, your professor will let you know what is. The three most-used reference systems are:

  • APA (American Psychological Association) is used by Education, Psychology, and Sciences
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) style is used by the Humanities, and English
  • Chicago / Turabian style is generally used by Business, History, and the Fine Arts

The reference system you must use will control three very important parts of your paper:

  1. The physical appearance and general set up of your paper (margins, title page, line spacing etc.)
  2. The way in which you insert your research findings into your paper (footnotes, in-text citation, etc.)
  3. The list of your sources used in your paper (Works Cited – MLA, References – APA, or Bibliography - Chicago/Turabian) 
Loading