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Distance Learning and Extended Campus Library Services: Research Tips

Connect with Your Librarians

If you need assistance with the research process, finding materials related to your topic, using the catalog or online resources, or any other information, don't struggle. Ask your librarians!

Talk with Linda LeBlanc, E-Learning & Instruction Librarian, Distance Learning Coordinator. You can "meet" me online through skype, blackboard, email or IM. We can "meet" over the phone 978-665-3062. You are also always welcome to come to the library and meet in person.

Ask the Librarian Subject Specialist. Contact the Librarian who is the liaison for your subject content.

Use the scheduler button below - you can see which librarians are available and book the appointment. Not sure who you want to meet with? Check out our Research Help Desk or see which librarian is the subject specialist for your subject content and contact that librarian directly.

Ask a question, chat, send comments:

As you start searching...

Finding too much is just as frustrating as finding too little. Some information will be irrelevant, out-dated, or not appropriate for your project.

Step One: Think about what type of material and resources will best fit your information needs. Ask yourself:

  • How much time do I have to gather needed information? Remember, research takes time.
  • Who is my intended audience? How much background information, if any, will I need to provide for them?
  • Is there a specialized vocabulary for my topic or discipline?
    • Do I need to define such terms? Will synonyms help?
    • Do I need to use plural or singular forms, spelling variants, or acronyms?
    • Have there been name changes, e.g. Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Esso to Exxon?
  • Do I need books, articles, other materials or a mixture?
    • Need current information? Try magazines or newspapers
    • Need historical or background information? Try books, articles and encyclopedias
    • Need research or empirical studies? Try peer-reviewed, scholarly articles
  • Does my professor have any special criteria or restrictions that I need to follow? 
  • What type of sources do I need? Do I need primary sources, secondary sources or both?
    • What is a Primary Source?
      • When you write a poem, paint a picture, create a blog. conduct an experiment, or give an interview you are creating a primary source. These are the original documents that people will use create their own research.
      • They are used to help understand historical time periods or specific people'e perspectives of the world.
      • Newspapers, when used to understand the history of an event or issue are often considered primary sources.
    • What is a secondary source?
      • The critique or the poem or picture, the article writen about the experiment, the essay written about the historical time period are the secondary sources. These are often what students use as sources for their own research papers.
      • Academic/Scholarly articles and books are secondary sources.
      • They analyze or explain the primary documents.

Step Two: Develop your search strategy by summarizing your topic and identifying the key concepts:

Most topics need to be broken down into smaller chunks by identifying two or three main concepts. Once you have each main concept, think of synonyms, broader, narrower, and related terms. Check the database thesaurus, if there is one, to help you determine some of these terms.

Step Three: Boolean Operators = And / Or / Not

Boolean operators help you tell the database how to combine your main concepts and search terms:

  • "AND" - use this to connect terms that must be in a record or citation. This will narrow a search as both terms must be present in a record.  Use this between each concept since each concept must come back in your results.
  • "OR" - use this to connect synonyms. This will broaden a search since only one term specified must be present to be identified.  Use this between your synonyms, boarder, narrower, and related terms since any of them can come back in your results.
  • "NOT" - use with caution since this will eliminate records with the specified term. Be very careful when you use this as it eliminated anything that mentions the word your eliminate. 

Step Four: Where do I search?

  • Library's Catalog: books, DVDs, physical items in the library
  • Research Databases: articles, newspapers, streaming media
  • Websites - try Google's Advanced search or Google Scholar to help limit the results to the type of site you need such as professional associations

Step Five: Make the database, catalog or search engine work for you. 

  • Select "Advanced Search" or a similar option.  Most databases give you multiple search boxes for your concepts and terms.  Use each box for 1 concept and it's terms. They also have a HELP feature to give you tips for using the database, such as whether you need to use quotation marks for phrases, truncation, etc. 
  • Remember, not everything you may need is on the Internet or available full-text in a database. You might just find a citation and a summary/abstract online that leads you to a print/physical source such as a book or DVD.

Step Six: Evaluate the items in your search results and adjust your research strategy.

  • Look for words or phrases related to your topic that you didn't use and add them in.
  • Try Subject searching instead of keyword searching.
  • Refine your topic or research question/statement
    • Not finding enough info? Here are some things to try:
      • Broaden your topic
      • Try different databases
    • Finding too much? Narrow your search.

Evaluating the resources you find...

Peer-reviewed, Scholarly Articles

Professors often insist that your research papers include scholarly journals and peer reviewed articles.

What is a scholarly journal?

These are articles written by people considered to be experts in their fields. They spend years conducting experiments, reviewing other literature on the topic, and writing their article. It often goes through a very intense review process to make sure the information is objective and accurate. It can often take a year or two for it to be published.

What's the difference between a peer reviewed journal, academic journal and scholarly journal?

Nothing - all three are just different names for the same idea.

How can I tell if an article is scholarly?

Here are some things to look for in order to determine if an article is scholarly:

  • Often start with an abstract, or summary, of the article.
  • Include footnotes or bibliographies.
  • Generally are longer than articles in popular or news magazines.
  • Are reviewed (refereed) by an editorial board and revised before being accepted for publication.
  • Include the language, or jargon, of the subject discipline. It assumes some degree of subject knowledge by the reader.
  • Report original research or experimentation results.
  • Are authored by subject experts, researchers, or scholars in their fields. Author credentials are frequently listed.
  • Are published by professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association's Journal of the American Medical Association or the National Council on Family Relations' Journal of Marriage and the Family.

How can I find these articles?

Many of the library databases allow you to limit your search results to journals that are scholarly, academic and/or peer reviewed. That does not mean that you will only get scholarly articles though as these types of journals will also publish items such as letters to the editor or book reviews. You want to review the articles that come back and make sure they meet the qualifications.