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Extension Educators and Agricultural Distance Researchers

Top FIVE Literature Searching Tips!

1. Choose the right database! No sense searching for genetic information in an art database

- try the resources listed on the databases page of this guide for some suggestions.
- Connect with your librarian for a research consultation
- choose from other library subject guides and look for the 'databases and articles' tabs.

2. Choose the right keywords! Retrieving the best articles relies on using the right terms
  • Brainstorm synonyms and alternative phrasings for each of your main concepts. Focus on using nouns and only use verbs or adjectives if necessary. Don't use minor words such as "the", "in", "on", or "of". 
  • See if your subject database has specific thesaurus terms that relate directly to your search concepts. A database thesaurus will identify the proper terms to use in that database and will also suggest broader, narrower, and related terms for you to consider.
3. Learn how to combine search terms properly.  Librarians call this "boolean searching"
  • AND narrows a search - both terms must be present
  • OR broadens a search - either term will be present
  • NOT/NO eliminates items - one term is not present
4. Learn to use advanced search features such as truncation, phrase searching, and search limiting
  • Truncation: in many databases you can use an asterisk (*) to retrieve items with various word endings and spellings. For example:  child*  will find child, children, or childish. 
  • Phrase Searching: most databases require quotation marks around the phrase. A phrase search will then locate only records containing the words in the particular order in which they appear.   Example: "invasive species" instead of: invasive species
  • Limiting: many databases have advanced limiting features relevant to the subject.  Check for limiting by year, publication type (e.g. research article or review article), gender, or age groups.
5. Follow the citations: find more studies is by using citation searching.
  • Backward searching: look through the reference lists of articles you have found. The reference studies are likely to be quite relevant for you as well.

Evaluating Information

Think critically about web sites and print resources.  

One of the most basic concepts in doing good research is evaluating the information you plan to use. This is something you likely do already in some form or another, though maybe you don’t think about. Here are some things to check:

  • Authority: Who is the author? Check for credentials and affiliation.
  • Content: What is the author's bias? Who is the audience?
  • Currency: Is the information current?
  • Validity: Are there references to other works that support the information?  
  • Publisher: Make certain the "host" of your information has a good reputation.