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Section 1.3 Research Tips and Tricks

Go see a liaison librarian

They will show you how to navigate databases, find hard-to-find sources, and save you a LOT of time.

Check the works cited or bibliography of a scholarly source

You may struggle to find more than a few sources that perfectly suit your topic. In such a case, look at the the references cited by the few sources that you have found. There's a good chance you'll find other articles that can help you get back on track.

Refine your search terms

Sometimes you may find that a database search of your topic returns few to no results. Before giving up, try using different combinations of search terms. Sometimes the terms that make sense to you may not be quite the same as the ones scholars before you have used. If you're really stuck, using a thesaurus to find synonyms can be a helpful trick. Some databases make use of specialized subject terms, too, so this is another place where a librarian can really help out.

Learn some handy tricks for searching databases

Use an asterisk (*) at the end of a word (or root of a word) or to replace a letter within a word:

  • Wom*n will tell the database to search for both “women” and “woman.”

  • Canad* will tell the database to search for “Canada” and “Canadian.”

Put phrases in quotation marks so that the database knows to search for that exact phrase—"information literacy" instead of information literacy.


will expand your search to look for more than one keyword: cars OR autos OR automobiles will find sources that contain any one of these keywords.


will limit your search to only those sources that contain both keywords: racism AND slavery will identify only the sources that include both keywords.


will exclude sources that contain that keyword.

List 1.3.1 Make full use of Boolean operators