Learning how to search an article database or the library catalog can be a tricky task. Use this guide to help you navigate these library resources, and feel free to contact the reference desk at 941.2489 if you need any help!
Step 1: What is your topic? Briefly state your topic in a sentence or two.
Step 2: What kind of information sources do you need? Think in terms of type (scholarly articles, background information, magazine articles, newspaper articles, statistics or other facts/data, etc.) and in terms of quality (authority, currency, accuracy, reliability, etc.). Think also about quantity: how much information do you need (lots of articles? A few books? One encyclopedia article for background information?).
Step 3: What kind of information tools can you use to find the kinds of information sources you need? Which tool is the most appropriate tool for your specific information needs? For example, do you need a database that finds articles in specific subject areas, or would a more general, multi-disciplinary database be appropriate? Do you need to use the library catalog?
Step 4: Once you've decided on the type of sources you want and the tools you have to locate them, you need to formulate your search query. Databases do not speak the same language we do, so you have to take your topic, boil it down to its bare bones, and then put it back together in database language. The first step of this is brainstorm a list of words and concepts associated with your topic.
Step 5: Then, using the words you just brainstormed, put those words together in a phrase, using the word AND to connect them. This is your search query.
Example of a weak search query: multiculturalism in college
Example of a better search query: multiculturalism AND college students