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How Do I Start My Research?

Types of Sources

Before diving right into a search, stop and take a moment to consider what type of resource you want to find. Do you need a book? A scholarly article? Do you need a blog written or a YouTube interview of an expert? Do you need raw data

Next, think about where that type of information might be found. Will a simple internet search locate what you need, or do you need another tool?

Use the chart below to think about where you might find the information you need. If you're not sure where to start, this would be a great moment for you to contact Ask the LLC chat box!

Consider the Types of Evidence You Need

Consider the types of evidence needed to answer your research question or make your argument. Are certain types of sources recommended or required? Some instructors require you to use only scholarly peer-reviewed journals, primary sources, newspapers, or books from the library, while others might leave things more open-ended.

If you need: Try using:
Expert evidence Scholarly articles, books, and statistical data
Public or individual opinion on an issue Newspapers, magazines, and websites
Basic facts about an event Newspapers, books, encyclopedia (for older and well-known events)
Eye-witness accounts Newspapers, primary source books, web-based collections of primary sources
A general overview of a topic Books or encyclopedias
Information about a very recent topic Websites, newspapers, and magazines
Local information Newspapers, websites, and books
Information from professionals working in the field Professional/trade journals

Additionally, you may need to think in terms of primary and secondary sources

primary and secondary sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Diaries Biographical Works
Journal articles detailing original research Books (except fiction & autobiographies)
Letters Commentaries, criticisms
Newspaper articles written at the time Histories
Oral & video recordings Journal articles (depending on the discipline these can be primary)
Original documents (e.g. birth certificates, trial transcript Literature reviews
Photographs Magazine & newspaper articles (this distinction varies by discipline)
Survey research (e.g. market surveys, public opinion polls)
Works of art, architecture, literature, music
Data, statistics, etc.  

Next, some of the most common search tools are below as well as some tips, but keep in mind that these are not one-stop shopping, nor are they one-size-fits-all. 

Search Strategies for Databases

Before you start entering any search terms, spend a few minutes trying to think of as many relevant terms and combinations of terms as you can. This will help you to avoid getting stuck in a rut with the first terms that come to mind.  Go back and review the Brainstorming keywords tutorial

If you need help in coming up with terms, you may want to try the "Thesaurus" or "Subject Headings" features in the database you've chosen.


Check out the "Help" or "Search Tips" to learn some of the search features specific to that database. Most databases provide similar features, but the methods may vary. Some common tricks:

  • truncation = To use truncation, enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with an * (asterisk). For example, type comput* to find the words computes, computer, computing or computational.
  • searching a phrase = Typically, when a phrase is enclosed by double quotations marks, the exact phrase is searched. For example, "employee retention" searches for the two words as a phrase.
  • Boolean terms (AND, OR, NOT) = Use these terms to connect your keywords. They work best in all capital letters:
    • AND combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, travel AND Europe finds articles that contain both travel and Europe.
    • OR combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, college OR university finds results that contain either college or university.
    • NOT excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, television NOT cable finds results that contain television but not cable.
  • Putting it all together: You can combine these Boolean terms with truncation and phrase searching to create powerful search statements. For example, if you are interested in what motivates students in higher education, you might try a search that looks like: (college* OR universit* OR "higher education") AND (student* OR undergraduate* OR "graduate student*") AND motivat*

Try the databases' Advanced Search feature, which usually gives you the ability to search multiple fields (author, title, keyword, subject, etc) with one search and may offer additional ways to expand or limit your search.

If your first search strategy does not work, try another approach. Remember that you can also get help from the library. Check out the links below.  You can book a Research Appointment with a librarian, or use the library chat.

Common Tools and How to Search Them

The list of resources below is not comprehensive, nor is it in order of "best" or "recommended."

It's up to you as a researcher to evaluate each tool and choose the best one.

Your instructor or librarian can provide guidance, but you should feel free to explore on your own as well. Click the "i" for more information about each resource, but don't stop there: Google them and see what else you can find out!

Common search tools for starting out on a new research question: 

Library subscription databases:

Article databases -  
News databases - 
Subject Guides:

In addition to databases, you may want to try subject guides.

These are specific to the discipline that you are working in, whether it's your major or whether it's just a field of study that you've chosen to work on for a specific class.


Each subject guide below will include links to recommended resources for that field.

Note this is not an entire list of all subjects, but you can find them by going to the Subject Guides.

A final note, if you want to search the subject guides for something specific you'll have to use the site search feature at the top right of the page. They are built more for browsing than searching.