Finding Information

Not sure where to start? Check out this to-do list for research guidance!

  1. State Your Topic: This can be a question: ("Can a vegetarian diet help prevent heart disease?") or a statement: ("A vegetarian diet can help prevent heart disease.") Your research will answer this question or prove your statement.

  2. Get Background Information: Do general Internet searches or look at encyclopedia to learn some of the language being used to discuss your topic.
  3. Brainstorm Keywords: List all the words related to your topic. Be sure to include synonyms and related words.
  4. Start Your Formal Research: Use the Finding Articles tab (below!) to navigate our databases. This Advanced Searching tutorial provides more information about how to apply search limiters, use citation shortcuts, and save articles to your email.
  5. Keep Organized: Save copies of resources on your computer, Google Drive, or database account. Make sure you keep track of places you've searched and keywords you tried. As you're searching, think back to your research question. Concentrate on the gaps you need to fill to answer it.
  6. Cite your Sources: Use the APA or MLA Style guide (depending on your class requirements) to help with formatting.
  7. Ask for Help: Ask the library staff for assistance or check the Tutoring schedule to get help from the writing desk!

Use our databases to find articles (What's a database? See this 6 minute video from CLIP to find out.)

Tips for Finding Articles

Boolean Operators

Use the following Boolean Operators to improve your search results.

Boolean Operator Impact Example
AND narrows search social justice AND equity finds articles that only include both terms
OR expands search social justice OR equity finds articles that include either term
NOT narrows search social justice NOT equity eliminates articles that mention equity
* expands search prevent* finds prevents, preventing, prevention...etc.

Are you seeing too many results?

  • Narrow your search by using more specific terms.
    • heart disease will have fewer results than health
  • Add more terms to your search using AND:
    • heart disease AND exercise AND diet will limit your results to items that contain ALL three terms
  • Exclude words from your search using NOT:
    • heart disease AND diet NOT cookbook will include items that contain heart disease and diet, but will eliminate results that are indexed as cookbooks

Are you seeing too few results?

  • Broaden your search by using less specific terms to describe what you are looking for.
    • heart disease instead of arrhythmia will give you more results.
  • Search for synonyms and related terms by using OR.
    • heart disease OR cardiovascular disease will include items with either term.
  • User fewer keywords by sticking to the most essential ones
    •  heart disease instead of heart disease AND health AND cardiovascular disease AND arrhythmia

Are your results irrelevant? 

  • Try thinking of different words to describe your topic
    • exercise, aerobics, physical fitness, physical activity, activity level, obesity

Keep Your Audience in Mind

Be aware that the content you find may be geared toward different audiences:

  • Scholarly content is usually written by experts for other experts and contain professional language:
    • documentary
    • textbook
    • article from a scientific journal
  • General interest content is written for the public and is less technical:
    • Hollywood movie
    • novel
    • blog

Here's how to tell the difference: 

Criteria for Content in all Formats:

Area General Interest Scholarly
  • Give information, entertain, promote a point of view or sell something
  • Report original research or experiments
  • Provide new analysis of previous research, experiments or writing
  • Moderate reading level
  • May use sensational or provocative title
  • Technical language used by experts
  • Written for scholars, professionals or students
  • Author name may be omitted
  • Usually written by non-experts (journalists, editorial staff, or freelance authors)
  • Degrees or qualifications not listed
  • Author's name listed
  • Written by expert in the field
  • May list position (job title), education and degrees
References Rarely has citations or bibliography Sources are cited, has bibliography

Criteria Specifically for Articles

Area General Interest Academic
  • Shorter length
  • Often have pictures and advertisements
  • Longer length
  • Little or no advertising
  • May include: abstract, explanation of methods, graphs, statistics, charts, analysis and conclusion
Peer Review
  • Not evaluated by experts in the field
  • Evaluated by other experts in the field
  • Called peer-reviewed, scholarly or refereed journals
  • Usually published daily, weekly, or monthly
  • Usually published monthly or quarterly


An important part of research is learning how to evaluate the information you find. Here are five specific areas to consider when evaluating any resource:


Format of Content Questions to Ask Where to Look
  • Who is the publisher? (university press? Commercial publisher? Government agency?)
  • Is the publisher reputable?
  • If the content includes research, who sponsored it? 


  • Title page
  • Reviews in reputable publications 
Specifically for Websites
  • Why do they sponsor the site?
  • Is contact information available?
  • What does the website domain tell you?
  • "Contact" or "About Us" page
  • Domain (ending of web address)
    • .org - usually a nonprofit organization
    • .edu - college or university
    • .gov - government


Format of Content Questions to Ask Where to Look
  • Who wrote the content?
  • What expertise does the author have?
  • What are the author's qualifications? (Education? Employment? Past writings?)
  • Biographical description on item
  • Look up author or group in a search engine

Specifically for websites:

  • "Contact" or "About Us" page


Format of Content Questions to Ask Where to Look
  •  How old is the resource?
  • Does the age of the information fit the requirements of your assignment?
  • Title page
  • Copyright dates

Specifically for websites:

  • Are links current? Do they work?

Specifically for websites:

  • "Contact" or "About Us" page


Format of Content Questions to Ask Where to Look
  • Does author cite sources? 
  • Are topics covered in-depth?
  • Are there spelling or grammar errors?
  • Is it clear and well organized?
  • Was this written for a general or scholarly audience?
  • Is the author's research method valid?
  • Evaluate the resource itself


Format of Content Questions to Ask Where to Look
  • What is the author's purpose?
    • To report? Inform? Persuade?
      Sell a product?
  • What is the information based on
    • Opinion? Experience? 
      Interviews? Research?
  • Are there ads associated with the content?
  • Does the information contain
    bias, prejudice, deception or manipulation?
  • Is it possibly a joke or satire?
  • Descriptions of the author or publisher on the item
  • Look up author / group in search engine.
  • Requests for donations, such as links that say "Donate" or "How to Help"


Specifically for Websites  
  • "Contact" or "About Us" page

Why Cite Your Sources?

When you use someone else's work, you need to give them credit for it. You do this by directing your readers to the original source. Otherwise, it is plagiarism.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else's work and passing it off as your own, whether accidentally or on purpose.

  • Test what you know by taking this plagiarism quiz (12-question quiz from Cornell University)

Citation Style Guides

APA Style

MLA Style

Citation Tools

Tips for using Citation Tools

  • Create your citation
  • Check your work using the guides and examples listed above
  • When you cut and paste a citation, make sure you format the font, indent and line spacing properly in your word processing program