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Research Process: Step 5: Searching

How to write a paper at the Davis Library and University of Rio Grande & Rio Grande Community College

Searching for Resources

Use library resources to search for the articles, books, and other sources of information that you need.

  • Use your list of keywords to search the library's databases. Check out the Search Tips to make better searches.
  • Use database limiters to shorten and focus your list of results. Limiters like "Full Text," "Peer-Reviewed," and date ranges can be very helpful.
  • You may start searching and not be able to find the type of information you need right away. Be flexible. You may have to broaden or narrow your topic or use different keywords in your search. You may have to do several searches to find what you are looking for.

Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper, project, bibliography or other research assignment. Be aware of the depth of coverage needed and the due date. These important factors may help you decide how much and when you will modify your topic. You instructor will probably provide specific requirements, if not the table below may provide a rough guide:

Length of Research Paper or Project Suggested Guidelines for Approximate Number and Types of Sources Needed
1 - 2 pages 2 - 3 magazine articles or websites
3 - 5 pages 4 - 8 sources, including books, articles (scholarly or popular), and websites
Annotated Bibliography 6 - 15 sources, including books, scholarly articles, websites, etc.
10 - 15 pages 12 - 20 sources, including books, scholarly articles, websites, etc.

Search Tips

Carefully Select Search Terms

  • Keywords: Use the most specific words to describe your topic including synonyms and alternate terms, such as abbreviations and scientific terms.

Use Advanced Search Techniques

  • Phrase Searching. Some databases and search engines will allow the use of quotations to search for an exact phrase or words together in a paragraph or sentence. This also may be referred to as proximity searching.
    • Example: "air pollution" Retrieves sources with the complete phrase instead of "air" in one sentence and "pollution" in another, unrelated sentence.
  • Boolean Operators: AND, OR, and NOT may be used to combine key words in electronic database searching. Using Boolean operators can make your search more focused and yield more precise results.
    • Use AND to retrieve records containing only all search terms. AND will reduce and refine the results.
    • Use OR to retrieve records containing one, both or all of the search terms. OR will expand the search and retrieve more results.
    • Use NOT to exclude terms in a search. Be cautious when using NOT, useful search results may be omitted.
  • Truncation is used to expand results by instructing the computer to look for the root of the word and all alternate word endings. The ? (question mark) or * (asterisk) may substitute for any number of characters at the beginning, middle or end of a word.
    • Example: gun* Retrieves gun, guns, gunners, gunnery, gunning, etc.

Davis Library's LibGuides

Davis Library's Research Guides

Use these guides to find resources in specific areas.

Refine Your Topic to a Research Question

You will often begin with a word, develop a more focused interest in an aspect of something related to that word, then begin to have questions about the topic. For example:

Ideas = Frank Lloyd Wright 
Research Question = How has Frank Lloyd Wright influenced modern architecture?
Focused Research Question = What design principles used by Frank Lloyd Wright are common in contemporary homes?

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are connector words, such as AND, OR, and NOT, that are used to combine or exclude words in a search string for more focused results.

Operator Examples Results

business AND ethics

cooking AND Spain

Results contain    
ALL of the search terms.

hotels OR motels

www OR world wide web

theater OR theatre

Results contain ANY of the search terms, but not necessarily all of them.

java NOT coffee

Clinton NOT Bill

Excludes results containing
the second search term.