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CRAR 9060: Foundations of Creative Arts Research

Creative Arts Research provides resources on the arts in education, including music, drama, dance, and art for graduate course CRAR 9060.

Forming Your Search Strategy

And, Or, Not

Combine all your concepts and terms with AND, OR, NOT:


AND - use this when ALL the words must be in your results. This will narrow your results.   Example: apples AND oranges; peanut butter AND jelly

OR  - use this to connect synonyms, when ANY can come back in your results. This will broaden a search. Example: women OR woman OR girl; cat OR kitty OR kitten

NOT - use with caution since this will eliminate results with the specified word.

See a visual guide to Boolean here!

    How to Craft Search Terms that Get Results

    Take it Apart

    When starting a search, many people type in a phrase, such as: arts in the classroom. This may not yield the best results though, since most search engines will start by trying to find the whole phrase.

    Instead, take your topic and pull the main ideas out into keywords. A better keyword search might be: arts AND classroom, or, arts AND teaching, or, arts AND pedagogy.

    Think Outside the Box

    We often start with a single term, like "theater," and all our searches revolve around that term. Searching with synonyms and related concepts will help find results you may have otherwise missed. Searching for: teaching AND (theater OR drama OR acting) will yield far more focused results than a search on just the term 'theater". (Don't forget different spellings too! i.e. "theater" and "theatre.")

    Let Other People Do the Work

    Unlike a web search, most catalogs and databases are organized with a controlled vocabulary. This means that every resource indexed in it - books, artcles, etc. - have been assigned specific subject terms. These often appear as part of the citation - look for tools that say Subject, or Subject-Thesaurus Term. By clicking on subject terms, you'll immediately be directed to other items that have been classified with similar content. Controlled vocabulary is a very powerful search tool - use it.  

    Step Up to Advanced

    Almost every search engine, catalog, and database offers an Advanced Search feature. Most will allow you to search on multiple terms, sort for full-text, date ranges, and type of publication, as well as remove certain types of results from a search (like reviews or editorials).


    Searching in Databases

    Limit Options:

    Most of our databases provide limit options that you can use to help narrow your search. Most databases have at least these two limits:

    • Full Text - Check this option if you only want to see the articles that have full text available in that database. When you use this option keep in mind that you may not be seeing some really great articles that you need for your research and you may have access to through one of our other databases, our print collection or our Interlibrary Loans service.
    • Date Range - Use this when you want the database to exclude any articles that are too old to use in your research. Often your professor may state that you can only use materials from the 5 or 10 years.

    Academic Search Complete, Proquest and many of our other databases provide additional limits you may want to use such as:

    • Scholarly Journals / Peer-reviewed Journals / Academic Journals (name differs, but they all mean the same thing) - Check this option when you only want to see articles written by professionals in the field which are submitted to the publisher for review by experts in the field before they are published in professional, scholarly journals.
    • Publication / Journal Name - This tells the database to only search within a specific journal for articles on your topic.
    • Image Types - This tells the database to only keep the articles that include images such as pictures, diagrams, charts, etc.
    • Publication Type - You can specify if you only want newspaper articles, journal articles, books, audio files, etc. The type of files you can select from will depend on the type of resources the database contains.

    Some databases provide unique limit options such as ERIC:

    • Intended Audience - This tells the database to only bring back materials that were written for the audience level you selected such as administrators, teachers, students, parents, researchers, etc.
    • Educational Level - If you select an educational or grade level from this list such as early childhood, middle schools or grade 5, you will only see materials that address that level. The benefit to this limit is you don't need to use a search term to narrow your results down by educational level.
    • ERIC Number - Every document in ERIC whether it is an article, book or some other publication type is assigned a unique ERIC number by the database which you can search by even if you have no other information. If the item is an article published in a journal, the ERIC number starts with EJ. If the item is any other type of document (book, report, speech, etc.), the ERIC number starts with ED.

    Special Search Functions:

    Many of our databases also offer special searching functions which can be really helpful. When you are in a new database click on Help to see what is available. A couple of the functions to look for are:

    • Truncation Symbols - The truncation symbol is usually an asterisk "*". When you have a search term such as teenager you can type in the root of the word followed by the truncation symbol and the database will look for all forms of the word and retrieve the articles. So if you typed in teen* the database would look for teen, teens, teenager and teenagers. It is also great for when you want to get the singular and plural forms of a word.

      An important thing to keep in mind when using truncation is where you truncate the word and what type of database are you in. For example if you are in an Education database and you type bull*, you will get articles on bullying. However the same truncated search term in a general reference database will get articles on bullying, cows, rodeo, bullets, etc.

    • Wildcard Symbols - The symbol is usually a question mark "?" or a pound sign "#". The symbol substitutes for a letter when you are not sure of the spelling. For example if you are looking for articles written by Ann Reid but you're not sure if her last name is spelled Reid or Reed you can type in Re?d and the database will look for both names.

    • Including Phrases in a Search - Some databases assume that if you type two or more words together and don't separate them by using AND, OR, NOT, that the words should be treated as a phrase. Other databases assume that several words typed together are words to be searched individually, just as is you had typed OR between each one, and need you to tell it by enclosing the words in parentheses or quotation marks that they are actually a phrase.

    How to Read a Research Article

    Reading a Scholarly Research Article

    Since they are written by experts in a discipline, scholarly and peer-reviewed articles can be dense or difficult to understand. Here are some strategies you can use to extract meaning from articles without being overwhelmed.

    The Parts of an Article

    Most scholarly research articles follow a specific format with the following sections:

    • Abstract – A quick summary of the entire article.
    • Introduction – The purpose/hypothesis of the study is articulated, and the previous research framing the current question is reviewed. (“What We Already Know and What We Want to Know”)
    • Methodology – A very precise accounting how the study was carried out - who were the subjects, under what conditions were they tested, etc. (“What We Did”)
    • Results – The data from the study. Often presented with dense mathematical formulas, and with charts, graphs, or other visual representations. (“Our Numbers”)
    • Discussion – A narrative review of the data and whether it proved or disproved the original thesis. (“What We Found Out and Why It’s Important”)
    • Conclusion – Usually restates the results in more straightforward language and discusses future directions for research. (“What We Still Don’t Know”)
    • Bibliography – The research the authors consulted to inform their own thoughts and design their study.

    The Reverse Oreo Method

    Everyone is familiar with Oreo cookies – dry crumbly cookies around a delicious middle.

    Scholarly articles are structured in the reverse of an Oreo, meaning that the “good stuff” is on the outside: the Abstract, Introduction, the Discussion, and the Conclusion. These sections are usually in simpler, more direct language, and speak clearly to the purpose of the study, what the results were, and what the implications of the findings might be.

    The “dry stuff” is on the inside of the article – the Methodology and the Results. A key point of the scientific method is that results must be able to be replicated to be valid, so Methodology shows exactly how the study might be reproduced, but sheds little light on the “big picture” (unless you’re actually going to replicate the experiment). The statistical analyses in the Results are important, but is just the math verifying the significance of the results.

    The Takeaway: Read the Introduction, Discussion and Conclusion first. Skip the middle sections until you have a handle on the purpose and findings of the study. Then go back and re-read the article with these sections. The data, charts, and graphs will now be in context and likely make more sense.

    Reading for Meaning

    As you are reading the article, here are some questions you should ask to help your understanding of it:

    • Identify the claim. What did the researchers set out to prove? (You will usually find this in the Abstract and the Introduction.) It should also articulate the context, or why the researchers are studying this specific subject. Is there a gap in our knowledge? New information in the field? A controversy in need of some clarifying facts?
    • Determine the scope. Who are the subjects of the study and what are their characteristics – species, geography, gender, age, ethnicity, etc. What was the sample size?
    • Evaluate the method. How did the researchers test their subjects? Under what conditions (natural, lab setting, etc.)? What were the independent and dependent variables in the study?
    • Examine the results. Were they significant? If so, what does this indicate about the hypothesis?
    • Find the gaps. What didn’t the researchers study? What might be the next logical follow-up to this research? Did the researchers identify any shortcomings of the study itself? If there is an opposing viewpoint or contradictory information, was this acknowledged and addressed head on? How might any problems with the study be avoided in future research?

    Using the Citations

    No research happens in a bubble – it always connects to a larger discipline or area of study. So, in order to understand if a study will add to the field of knowledge, researchers must provide the context for their work.

    This is usually articulated in the Introduction, where previous research is cited to show what is already known about the subject, and why this study will add something new. These citations are a wealth of additional information, and are often an excellent place to find multiple sources on a topic.

    • As you read, highlight the sections of text that seem most relevant to your topic and have an in-text citation after them – i.e. (Brown & Miller, 2006).
    • Using the names in the in-text citation, find full citation for the article in the Bibliography.
    • Read the title to that article. Does it sound like it supports the current research? Is in opposition to it? If you need more than one source on a topic (which is usually the case) would this be a good article to find and read?
    • If so, find the article using the Journals link on the library webpage. Search with the Journal Title from the citation to see if we have the article at the Fitchburg State library. Even if we don’t, we can still get it for you through interlibrary loan.

    Peer Review

    Peer review is important because it means the study has been reviewed by other researchers and experts in the field, and these experts have provided specific feedback to the original authors. Peer review is intensive and can take months, so a study that has been peer-reviewed indicates a high level of authority and reliability. Most library databases allow you to limit a search to just peer-reviewed articles.