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Information Commons - Library: RESEARCH 101

Research 101

Welcome to Research 101 -- your online crash course in conducting scholarly research and finding sources or information for papers, projects, and life! Here you'll find advice about developing a search strategy as well as tips and tricks for how to best search for information on databases.

Research Process Worksheet

Reference Sources

Conduct background reading to better understand your topic. Try using reference sources (scroll down to "Reference eBooks") to discover the important facts surrounding your topic such as dates, people, important terms and concepts, etc. 

Need Help?

Have questions? Need help with research or citations? The St. Augustine College Library is here to help!







How To Search For Information

1. Choose a research topic

  • Do: Pick something you're interested in!
  • Don't: Pick something you think your professor will like.

2. Develop a research question

  • Ask yourself: What do I already know about this topic? What don't I know? What would I like to know?
  • Who/What/Where/When/Why/How
  • Try to pick an open-ended question -- such as a "how" or "why" question -- rather than a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no, or be prepared to explain why

3. Choose your keywords. These are typically formed from the main concepts in your research question

  • Example: For "Should college athletes be paid?" the main concepts are college athletes and paid

4. Find synonyms and related concepts for your keywords. Having multiple options for search terms and searching them in different combinations will open up more and different results. Remember, different people -- such as patients vs doctors -- use different terms to refer to the same concept.

  • Example:    college                 athletes                 paid
    university              players                   salary
                       students                sports                     compensation

5. Start searching! A good strategy is to start with general, multi-disciplinary databases or eBooks and move to subject-specific databases. Check out our ARTICLES & DATABASES and eBOOKS pages for suggestions of resources and helpful tutorial videos!

  • It's helpful to keep a list of keywords used and articles found throughout your search so that you can go back to articles at a later date. Open up a GoogleDoc or Word document and copy/paste citations and notes about each article you look at.
  • Read the "Search Tips and Tricks!" for a more strategic approach to searching

Evaluating Sources

Not every article you find is going to be right for this specific paper. Use the following criteria to determine whether this article is appropriate for your research needs:

1. Currency:

How timely is your article?


Think about: When was the information published or posted? Has the information been revised or updated? Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?

2. Authority:

What is the source of the information?


Think about: Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? What are the author’s qualifications to write on the topic? Are they affiliated with any organizations or groups?

3. Accuracy:

How reliable or truthful is the content?


Think about: Where does the information come from? Is the information supported by evidence? Has the information been reviewed? Can you verify any of the information in another source? Is there a bibliography?

4. Purpose:

Why does the information exist?


Think about: What is the purpose of this information? (To inform or persuade?) Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear? Is the information fact or interpretation of facts? Opinion? Propaganda? Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

5. Relevance:

How well does the information fit your needs?


Think about: Does the information closely relate to your topic or answer a question you have? Who is the intended audience? (Experts? General public?) Is the information at an appropriate level? (Not too narrow, not too general?) What will this source add to your research project?

6. Scholarly:

Is this article scholarly or not? 


Think about: What is the source of publication?  Is the author affiliated with a university or research institute?  Does the article report original research? Is it peer-reviewed?

Search Tips and Tricks!

Use Boolean Operators for a more precise search!

OR = increase your results. Combine synonyms or similar terms to increase the number of results.  

Example:  groups OR organizations OR associations RETRIEVES articles that contain any of those 3 words 

AND = narrow your results. Combine different concepts to narrow your search.  

Example:  students AND kindergarten RETRIEVES articles that contain both of those words. 

NOT = narrow your results. Combine different concepts to reduce your search by excluding some words.  

Example:  students NOT kindergarten RETRIEVES articles about all students except kindergarten students.

Watch this video prepared by McMaster University about using Boolean operators and search techniques 


Enclose phrases in " " to find all words together: "culinary arts" or "gun control"

Shorten search terms

Shorten search terms and add a * to retrieve singular, plural, and variant spellings.

advertis* : retrieves advertise, advertisers, advertising, advertisement, advertisements

Use limits

Most databases will allow you to apply limits to your searches and results, such as publication date, source type, scholarly, etc.

Search multiple databases

Try your search in more than one database. EBSCO will let you search multiple databases simultaneously. Look for "choose databases" above the search box. In ProQuest, use the "change databases" link in the banner to select multiple databases to search.

Use subject headings for a more precise search

Most journal article databases use controlled vocabulary to make searching for journal articles more specific. Knowing the best subject heading will improve your specific search.  Use a database's THESAURUS (controlled vocabulary) to choose the best words for your SUBJECT search.

Watch this video prepared by Western University about using subject headings or descriptors.