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Research Tips & Techniques   Tags: research  

This guide provides basic tips and techniques for completing library research.
Last Updated: Sep 23, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates
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Step 1: Clearly Define Your Research Need

  • What do you need or want to know?
    • "What is the connection, if any between global warming and extreme weather?"
  • How much information do you need or want?
    • "Information for a 5-8 page research paper"
  • Use general library resources, such as encyclopedia articles or books to better understand your topic before you begin your research.

Step 2: Carefully Select Your Search Terms

  • Keywords and Search Phrases
Use the most descriptive words and phrases from your topic including synonyms and alternate terms, such as acronyms and scientific terms. 
"What is the connection, if any, between global warming and extreme weather?" 

Search phrases:

global warming    climate change    climatic changes     greenhouse effect    extreme weather


floods    flooding    hurricanes     drought     tornadoes     connection      relationship

  • Use Controlled Vocabulary

Many databases and indexes assign controlled words, subject headings or descriptors to database records. This is done to improve access to information. For example, in an education database the phrase "elementary education" would be used as a subject heading/descriptor for all articles about kindergarten through grade six. Using this descriptor will retrieve references to articles on the topic, even if the phrase "elementary education" never appeared in the title or abstract of the articles.

Different databases may use different controlled vocabulary terms. For example, the following terms are used by these catalogs and databases:

Library of Congress Subject Headings Subject terms Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms
AIDS (Disease) AIDS (Disease) Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
Indians of North America Indians of North America American Indians


Ask the library reference staff for help in finding thesauri.

  • Use advanced search techniques 

    Truncation is used to expand results by instructing the computer to look for the root of the word and all alternate word endings.

flood*   searches for flood, flooded,  floods,  flooding

Truncation symbols may differ depending on the database or engine you are using. Common truncation symbols are:  

 * (an asterisk)

? (a question mark)

# (the pound sign)

Use Boolean operators to produce more relevant search results by combining search terms.

          The principal Boolean operators are: AND



  • Use AND to combine different concepts together. This will reduce search results.

"global warming" AND "extreme weather"

          In search engines use the + symbol (+"global warming" +"extreme weather")

  • Use OR to gather references that contain similar terms or synonyms. This will increase search results. Always put parentheses around terms you connect with OR.

("extreme weather" OR flood* OR tornado* OR drought)

  • Use NOT to exclude terms. Use this sparingly as it may remove useful search results.

"extreme weather" NOT drought

          In search engines use the - symbol ("extreme weather"-drought)

Hint:  Some databases, especially online library catalogs, use AND automatically. For example, if you enter global warming, it will search for the words global AND warming, but not necessarily for the words to be next to each other.

Phrase  Searching
Some databases and search engines will allow you to search for an exact phrase. Phrase searching will reduce the number of search results. Use quotation marks to find exact phrases.

Search for a phrase: "greenhouse effect" (use quotations)


Step 3: Start Your Search

Books, journals, magazines, newspapers, and media available in your library and in other Utah libraries

Articles from scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers    

For more help


Step 4: Carefully & Accurately Record Your Findings


Step 5: Critically Evaluate the Information You Find

  • Is the resource useful, well written, up to date and/or at an appropriate level for your need?
  • Is the source credible, authoritative, unbiased, factual?
  • Remember the Internet is a self publishing medium and contains a huge range of data, including useless, false, and offensive materials

For more help, see our guide on critical evaluation.


Step 6: Get Help When You Need It!

  • Ask for help from your instructor
  • Use "HELP" screens and other online help when available
  • Ask for assistance from the library reference staff as needed
  • Don't waste time or get too frustrated before asking for help


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