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Research How-To

It's hard to find good information if you don't know what you're looking for. Do a little pre-searching to learn about your topic if it is new to you. The more you know about your topic, the better your searches will be.

Pre-Search

A specific topic

Any general encyclopedia (like Grolier Online or Wikipedia) can be a good place to start. You should learn:
  • Why you need this information?
  • What are the important terms?
  • Who are the key stakeholders?
  • Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?

Develop a specific topic

Try browsing Yahoo's directory to develop a focus.

Plan Your Search

Your pre-search should direct the type of information source you need and the terms you should use to search.

Why?

The purpose of your information search will determine the types of resources you will use.
  • Inform/Update (news publications)
  • Data/Fact gathering (news, government agencies, subject databases)
  • Educate (reference sources and databases to give solid overview of topic or event)
  • Persuade (blogs, opinion-editorials, pro/con issue databases, special-interest groups)
  • Entertain (humor or parody sites, video, art, sound, music)
  • Buy/Sell (commercial sites, business databases)

What?

Knowing the terms, names, and phrases of your topic allows you to research with precision. Every subject area has its own language.
  • Phrases--put quotes around the phrase to search exactly those words in that order
    • "adolescent development"
    • "developmental delay"
    • "stand and deliver"
    • "google search tips"
  • Variant word endings--Google automatically searches different endings of the same word (called stemming). If you are searching a database or library catalog, use an asterisk (shift + 8) to stand in for the rest of the word.
    • child* (to search for child, children, childhood, childish, childlike...)
    • disab* (to search for disability, disabled, disabling...)
  • Misspellings--Google and many other search engines automatically correct or suggest the correct spelling. Many databases and our library catalog do not--they simply give you no search results.
    • Look the word up and copy + paste the correct spelling
    • Use the wildcard character to shorten the word
  • Limiting by type of website
    • In Google, use site:. to only search a certain type of domain
      • "travel advisory" site:.gov
    • In Google, add the minus sign before site:.com to exclude a domain type
      • "bottled water" -site:.com
      • buffalo -bills -new york
    • Library databases and catalog: Use NOT
      • "bottled water" NOT
  • Terms with similar meanings OR
  • Multiple spellings (like a foreign name or term)
  • Terms or sites that must be included

For more tips, try Google's Better Searches for Better Results.

Who?

  • Individuals
  • Groups, Organizations, Associations, Governments, Institutions
    • Search for their websites if they are currently active
    • Search a CVU database like ABC-CLIO for historical activity

Where?

When?

Evaluating Websites

Try the CRAAP Test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose).

If you want to skip the evaluation and search websites that have been reviewed by savvy humans try:

  • Webpath Express part of CVU Library's catalog that searches reviewed websites
  • InfoMine a search engine of scholarly websites

Otherwise, you will need to:

Find the Author, Publisher or Sponsor, and Date

If you look for all the information on the webpage or website needed to make your bibliography, you will have done most of the evaluating. If you cannot find this information (try "About" "Our Story" "Contact"), you should find another source or ask a librarian/teacher for help.

Types of websites

Ohio State University Libraries group websites into 3 main types:

Advocacy

Organizations or individuals trying to sway opinion, defend a viewpoint, provide evidence for a position.

Commercial

Companies or individuals trying to sell or promote a product or service. They may contain informational articles, but with all the advertising sponsors, how unbiased is the information?

Reference & Information

Individuals, organizations, or publishers providing full overviews on topics to educate or inform. Good resources will disclose authorship and information resources.

Databases

Our Databases are sets of resources we pay a subscription fee to in order to access. Usually, database content in is not available for free on the Internet.

Database Strengths:

  1. No advertisements.
  2. Reliable and vetted. The content is written by professional journalists or researchers and is reviewed and edited by publishers.
  3. Identifiable content-- you know if you are looking at a topic overview, a journal article, an opinion essay, or an encyclopedia article.
  4. Human oversight and selection of content.
  5. Identifiable authors with credentials.
  6. Clear bibliography information, sometimes already in MLA format.
  7. Content-rich. Each database specifies the type of content it contains and fills that mission.
  8. Distraction free.

Database Weaknesses:

  1. Search - ability. Database search engines are not as easy as Google. One misspelled word, and you may come up empty-handed.
  2. Clunky and slow...but you save time at the end with reliable content and identifiable authors and publishers.
  3. Log-ins. Full text content isn't free...one has to pay a subscription fee, just as you would if you bought a daily newspaper or monthly magazine. Fortunately, CVU's login easy to remember.

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Jennifer Lucey,
Sep 25, 2013, 6:03 AM
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Peter Langella,
Sep 26, 2013, 10:29 AM
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Ellen Arapakos,
Jan 24, 2011, 6:51 PM