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Successful Searching in the Research Electronic Resources

Do you need to find articles to research your paper topic? Did your instructor tell you that you need to use scholarly or peer-reviewed work? Most likely, you will find this kind of information in a research database, which indexes articles so that they can be searched and found. Some databases provide immediate access to the full-text of articles; others only provide the citation information needed to find the article. Most databases include a combination of full-text and citations.

1. Choose a database with the right subject focus
Go to the Oregon Tech Library homepage. Click on Electronic Resources. On the right side of the page, click on Find by Subject to select a guide that aligns with your subject focus.

NOTE: Read the descriptions of the electronic resources carefully, because the list includes both article databases and reference databases (these consist of encyclopedias and other items that are good for background information). Database descriptions will help you determine if they contain the information you need.

2. Simplify your topic into its key concepts
What essential ideas need to be part of the information you retrieve? Try writing down your topic as a statement or question and then underline the terms representing key concepts.


Example: Should marijuana be legalized?

3. Think of alternative words you can use to represent the same idea
What other ways are there to say the same thing? Consider synonyms, broader and narrower terms, antonyms, colloquial words versus professional terminology.

Examples:      marijuana:     marihuana    hemp    cannabis    pot
                      legalized:     legalization    legalize

4. Map out the logic you will need to combine your key concepts

•    Use OR to combine terms that represent the same idea
•    use AND to combine different terms or sets of terms representing the ideas.
•    See Help to figure out how to search by phrase or truncate (that is, retrieve all forms of the search term: use truncation symbol after the word root, for example, enter legal* to cover legal, legalized, legalization, legalize).
•    Use parentheses around OR terms when combining them with AND.

      Example for EBSCO databases, such as Academic Search Complete:

                  Select Standard Search and in the Find box, type:

                 (marijuana OR marihuana OR hemp OR cannabis OR pot) AND


      Example for FirstSearch databases, such as ArticleFirst:

                  In the Search For box, type:     

(marijuana OR marihuana OR hemp OR cannabis OR pot)  AND

(legalization OR legalize)

NOTE:  Learn more about Boolean Search logic here.


5. Get help when you use an unfamiliar electronic resource

Different electronic resources have different conventions for search features such as truncation, searching for terms in specific data fields, and limiting by language. Do you know how to limit your search by date of publication, methodology, or language? Use the online Help, or ask a librarian for assistance.

6. Use what you find in one search to build another, better search
Did you retrieve records for items that were on the right subject? Were they too technical or too popular?  Did you find enough? Use good results to find appropriate subject headings.  If the results were not suitable, try using different keywords, reworking your search logic, or choosing another database.

NOTE: Oregon Tech students, faculty, and staff can access library databases from any computer.  In order to access them, you will need to provide your Oregon Tech email log-in and password. Find more information at Connecting from off-campus.

To practice building better search strategies, use a Searching Log, a table for recording the stages of your search: databases and search terms, and the quantity and quality of results. It will help you analyze advantages and disadvantages of different databases and ways of searching. View the Searching Log.

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