Tutorials to help with library researching, citing, and more

Creating a Search Strategy

Learn to design an effective search strategy. Save time and get better results.

Video Transcript

As you might know, library research databases work differently than Google. This video will cover some strategies for searching library databases effectively.

Most of us are pretty good at searching Google these days. Just type in a few keywords, and it’s usually easy to find what you want.

But, using library databases means you’re going to have to spend some time thinking about how and what you are going to search. That’s your search strategy, and coming up with one can you save you a lot of time and effort.

One study found that students with a good search strategy spent 50% less time searching for sources than students who just put in a few random words.

Students that use a search strategy think about the words they are going to use, and the words they aren’t going to use, and how they’re going to put them together.

Let’s say you’ve decided to write a paper on this question: “What are some effective health care solutions for refugees in Europe?” 

You can take the path of least resistance and copy and paste the question words into Global Search — but that will most likely give you poor results. Or you could take a few minutes and come up with a search strategy.

Let’s give it a try. First, we want to pick out only those words that are directly related to our research question, and eliminate the ones that aren’t going to help us much.

“What,” “are,” “some,” “for,” and “in” are not words specific to our research question so we’re not going to use them.

What about “solutions?” It could help, but it could also appear in a lot of information not directly related to our question, so let’s eliminate it for now.

That leaves us with three great keywords: “healthcare,” “refugees,” and “Europe.”

Now we’re ready to put those words together. Unlike Google, which often places an invisible AND between all your keywords, in most library databases you must add the word AND between your keywords.

So we need to change “healthcare, refugees,” “Europe” to “healthcare AND refugees AND Europe.”

So we’re done, right? Not so fast. Library databases also use another important word to combine key terms, and that word is the magical OR. OR can add so much to your search!

As you know there are many different terms you can use for the same idea or concept. You can use OR to include these other words — words like synonyms, related words, and examples.

So for the word “refugee” we could also use the words migrant, asylum seeker, and evacuee. And for “healthcare” we could also use a related word like medicine.

Now we need to put these together with our other words.

Library databases do this with the use of OR and parentheses. Anytime you use an OR, you want to make sure you nest the related words in parentheses.

In this example you are telling the database to look for resources that include the word Europe AND the words refugees or asylum seekers plus the words healthcare or medicine.

This will produce results like this one, that definitely include the word “Europe” and either the word “refugees” or “asylum seekers” and either “healthcare” or “medicine.”

There really is no limit to how many words you can use, for example: “Europe AND (refugees OR migrants OR asylum seekers OR evacuees) AND (healthcare OR medicine OR health).

So, next time you need to use a library database, save yourself time, effort, and frustration by following these steps.

Enter only those words that are directly related to concepts in your research question.

Eliminate words that are not relevant.

Come up with synonyms and other words related to your keywords.

Put them together with ANDs and ORs.

This will give you results that are much more relevant than if you just pasted the question into the search box.


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Using Global Search

Learn to use Global Search effectively.

Video Transcript

Many academic libraries these days have a global search tool. This tool is similar to Google Scholar, but it’s specifically designed to access library resources. It conveniently searches across dozens of research databases and the library catalog all at once. Using Global Search can be a little tricky because it’s a rather complex system. But there are some useful tips you can learn to search effectively. Let’s take a look.

Ahmed has carefully thought about his search strategy and entered this search:
Europe AND (refugees or asylum seekers) AND (healthcare or medicine).

He used a carefully thought-out search strategy, so he got a pretty good list of results. However, there were so many! He felt a bit overwhelmed.

He wondered how to narrow down these results to find the best ones. And he was also confused about the many different links for getting the full text.

One of the first things to know is that most library databases are paid for by CEU Library and not open to the world. So Ahmed needed to make sure he was logged in to the CEU VPN service in order to get full access to articles. Luckily, he had already set up his AnyConnect VPN account, so he logged in. 

Next, Ahmed wondered about all the different links to full text under each result. Some of them said “Full text option(s).” Others said “Full text in JSTOR” or full text in some other databases.

He wondered which ones to click on first. Since Global Search is a complex system bringing together information from many disparate sources, the best approach is to just try any of the full text links until you get to articles that are useful to you.

If there is no full text, Ahmed could use CEU Library’s Interlibrary Loan service to request the item from another library.

Now let’s talk about narrowing your search. Ahmed noticed that on the left side of the results page there were many options under Refine Results.

Some of the most useful options were listed under “Limit To.” Ahmed checked “full text” and the number of results went down by almost 700.

You might wonder…. isn’t everything full text? Not really. That’s because some databases only contain citations to articles. So those results would not have full text, just a citation. Ahmed did’t want to wait to order articles from other libraries using interlibrary loan, so he focused on the ones that he could download immediately.

Next Ahmed noticed the Publication Date filter. For his topic he was interested mainly in more recent articles, so he changed the range to 2015 to the current year. After moving his cursor out of the date box, the results filtered down to 821. A much better set of results! But still too many to go through one-by-one.

Then he noticed the checkbox for Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journals. For this research paper, he didn’t need to use newspapers or popular magazines, though you might want to for some other topics. So he checked the box and his results set went down to 616. Good.

Another useful feature is narrowing by Subject. Ahmed checked the boxes for “refugees” and “health services accessibility.” With each checkbox, his results became more focused on the topics he wanted. You could try various options to get the results that are most useful to you. Ahmed found articles that were exactly what he was looking for.

There are many other useful ways to refine your results, such as Language, Geography, and more. You can experiment with these get the most relevant results. You might even decide to change the focus of your topic based on results that you found.

So remember, in addition to using a well-thought-out search strategy, these methods can help you narrow your results to articles that are relevant and useful for your topic.

Happy searching!

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Citing and Plagiarism

Learn why and how to cite appropriately so that you can avoid plagiarism.

Video transcript

Last year Natalia wrote an excellent research paper. She spent months researching — reading, analyzing, thinking, and writing. Her professor was very impressed with her paper. In fact, she was so impressed that she suggested that Natalia submit it to a journal for publication.

A few months later another student read her paper and decided to use a few ideas and words from it, but didn’t realize that he needed to gave Natalia credit. When Natalia found out and read his paper, she was pretty upset and took it up with the Dean of Students.

Most students know that you shouldn’t quote directly from another person’s work without citing them, or worse, submit an entire work as if it were your own. But did you know there are other practices that can qualify as plagiarism?

That’s right. For example:
Copying verbatim a few phrases or sentences from the work of others without attribution.
Paraphrasing sections of another text without any reference in the body text. Just including it in your bibliography or reference list is not enough.

It doesn’t matter whether you use the same ideas without using direct words, or if you use direct quotes. Either way you need to give credit to the original creator. The only time you don’t need to cite something is if it is common knowledge.

Not only is it important to give the original author the credit they deserve, but it’s also important to allow your reader to track down the sources you used. You do this by citing them accurately. That’s why there are detailed citation styles for specific disciplines that you must use when formatting your citations.

So how should you cite something you want to use? Various disciplines publish their own guidelines of how to cite sources and format research papers.
Since there are several different options for styles, be sure to ask your professor which style they prefer for their course.

Some examples of these are: ASA (American Sociological Association), APA (American Psychological Association), The Bluebook, for Law, CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) for various subjects, and MLA (Modern Language Association) for Humanities.

These styles differ quite a bit in their details on how to format your references. Here’s the same citation, formatted in three different styles.

It can be hard to remember everything you need for a particular type of citation and the good thing is you don’t have to keep all these details in your head.

There are many websites that can help you put together bibliography entries and also many databases can do it automatically.

When you cite your sources properly, readers know what works you used and how you used them. And they can easily locate them. In this way you avoid unintentionally plagiarizing the work of others. If the student who copied ideas from Natalia’s paper had done this, Natalia would have received the credit she deserved.

Want to learn more?

For links to various style guides, see our guide to Citing Sources and Academic Integrity.

Also, you can download software for managing your bibliographies on our Citation Management page.

Good luck with your papers!


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Using Zotero

Learn how to use the Zotero citation manager.

Video transcript

Irina had been working for more than a week on her latest research paper. She was using an effective search strategy so she found many good sources for her topic.

But now, she was beginning to feel overwhelmed with managing all those sources! She was keeping several lists in a Word document, but it was getting too long to manage effectively. And she needed to look up and remember the correct citation styles to use.

She was talking about this with her friend Malika who was also working on a scholarly paper. Malika recommended that she get Zotero, a free, easy-to-use tool for organizing, citing, and sharing her sources.

So Irina downloaded it on her laptop, and also on another computer that she used from time to time. She was happy to notice that it’s free and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Malika told her a few things about Zotero. First, Zotero makes it easy to save citations using a browser extension. You can also enter citations manually.

Next, Zotero lets you organize your citations into collections and tag them with keywords. Irina was glad to know that because she had citations for two different papers she was working on.

Another useful feature is that Zotero creates citations in the style you need, whether it’s University of Chicago, MLA, APA, or some other format. Irina was glad to hear that because she had been painstakingly formatting each citation manually, while looking up the correct styles online. So she downloaded and installed the word processor plug-in to integrate this feature with her writing.

Irina was also happy to hear that she could keep her data in sync across multiple computers. She had a Windows laptop and also a Mac at home and she sometimes worked from different locations with the laptop. With Zotero synchronizing her data, she could start work on one computer, and finish it on another.

Malika also told her about another useful feature: groups. Groups allow you to share references with other Zotero users online. It’s a great way to work on collaborative research projects. You can create your own groups or join an existing group. You can make your group public or private. Some groups share their reference lists publicly while keeping editing available only to group members.

Irina was curious about this, so she went to Zotero’s groups page and searched with the keyword, “refugees.”

One group was especially helpful to her: Neighborhood and Refugees. She browsed through the publicly viewable list and found a few more references for her paper.

Irina made a mental note to use this groups feature the next time she was collaborating on a paper.

Now that Irina had Zotero, she was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of its features! So she decided to read the online instructions offered by CEU Library as a way to get started.

She also signed up for an online workshop offered by CEU library staff, who were super-helpful and answered all of her questions.

Irina thanked Malika for telling her about Zotero. It was already making her life as a student scholar easier.

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