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SPED 3520: Program Development/Students with Severe Disabilities: Tips to Make the Research Process Easier

Choosing a Database

There a large number of databases available, each one different from another in a variety of ways. They may have very different search features and options. Some databases are subject specific while others cover a more general, broad-based range of subject areas. They may provide full online access to some or all of the items (article, book, video, etc.), or they may provide only an abstract or partial clip, or just list the item's citation information.

In the field of Special Education Academic Search Premier, ERIC and Education Journals are great databases to start with for just about any topic. From there, depending on your topic, you may want to look at other subject specific databases. For instance Lexis-Nexis Academic provides information on state and federal regulations as well as legal cases relating to education while psycholgy databases can provide additional articles relating to behavior or cognitive development.

Looking for topic ideas?

Not sure where to start your research?  Take a look at these resources for overviews of your topic:

Scholarly Journals?

Q: What is a scholarly journal?

A: 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.

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

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

Q: How can I tell if an article is scholarly?

A: 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   (Journal of the American Medical Association), or the National Council on Family Relations   (Journal of Marriage and the Family).

Q: How can I find these articles?

A: Many of the library databases allow you to limit your search results to journals that are scholarly. That does not mean that you will only get scholarly articles though. You want to review the articles that come back and make sure they meet the qualifications.


Q: What is the difference between a scholarly journal, a trade journal and a popular magazine?

A: A trade journal is typically from professional organizations in a specific field, but articles are not peer reviewed.  They are a great way to find out current issues and practices in a specific field.  Some professional organizations will have a scholarly journal and a trade journal.  Popular magazines are like Time, Newsweek, Vogue or Sports Illustrated.  These articles are written by journalists and are for the general public.  They are a good way to get an introduction to a topic.

And, Or, Not

Combine your search terms with AND, OR, NOT:

These are called Boolean Operators or search commands for describing what you want to find in a database.
AND NARROWS RESULTS results must include both words e.g. athletes AND injuries
OR BROADENS RESULTS results can include either word e.g. athletes OR players
NOT NARROWS RESULTS results must not include the second word e.g. athletes NOT professional

Already know the article you need but not sure how to find it?

Sometimes you may come across a citation or even a partial citation of an article that you need or want to find. Some of the common reasons why this might happen are:

  • You may have an assignment in which your professor tells you to find a specific article.
  • You may have a friend who mentions they saw an article you might be interested in.
  • As you read the articles you have found, you examine their bibliographies and find additional articles on your topic.
  • The article is not available in full text in the database or website you are using.

To help you quickly discover if you can get the article from one of our online journals or the library's print collection we provide a Journal locator tool on the library's homepage - mouse over Research and click on the Journals link in the green dropdown, then click on Journal Locator (or use the Journal Locator tool embedded below). All you need is the name of the journal, which you can type in the box below (if you don't know the exact journal title, you can click on the down arrow and search by "Title Contains All Words" instead of the default "Title Begins With") and then hit the Search button. It will bring you to a results screen where you will see one or more of the following:

  • The journal title displays with one or more databases listed along with the date range that the database provides full text articles for that journal. Simply click on the database link to go to the journal or in many cases there will be a direct link to the article.
  • The journal title displays with a date range and the note that it is in the Fitchburg State print holdings on the 2nd floor. Simply come in to the library and pull the issue off the shelf; print journals are shelved alphabetically by journal title.
  • If you see the message "Sorry, this search returned no results.", it means we don't subscribe to that journal. Make sure you didn't mistype or mispell, and then go directly to ILLiad Interlibrary Loan and fill out the form so we can borrow the article from another library for you - this is a free service for students. When the article arrives we will send it to you via email or post-to-web so you can download it.

Note: If you are in one of our library databases, you will see a "Get Article" or "Find Article" link for each article in your results list that is not full text. Click on that link and it will launch the Journal search tool using the article's citation information for you without your having to use the Journal search box.

Type in the name of a journal to see if the AVGC Library has access to it online or in our print collection:



  Paraphrasing vs. Quoting

Paraphrasing is different from quoting, but it's not always as easy to do.  Here are some resources to help you learn how to paraphrase better.



  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

(From Merriam Webster Online.)

Explore the links below to learn more about Plagiarism and how to avoid it.