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SSI2-131: Changing the Game: Gender, Equality, and College Sports

Choosing the Best Finding Aids

A good starting point for academic work is one or more of the many databases available through the library's website. Databases provide access and content to sources that are generally not available on the open web through a general search engine like Google.

Every database contains only certain types and amounts of information. There is no single database or web search interface that will work for every research context; instead, you'll need to match your specific research needs to a variety of options.

Library catalog searches (i.e., Primo) can be the better choice when you are seeking in-depth, book-length treatments of a topic. Because so much material is cataloged in Primo, you will need to use limiters and Library of Congress Subject Headings to focus your search.

Multidisciplinary databases cover a wide variety of subject areas and may include a mix of popular and scholarly sources. They can be good resources when your research requires multiple disciplinary perspectives or a variety of source types. JSTOR is an example of a multidisciplinary database.

Subject databases cover a specific discipline and provide the widest range of access to scholarly sources. They are used for in-depth research. They are also especially useful when you know you need to find scholarly work written within a specific disciplinary framework. The Gender Studies is an example of a subject database. Which subject databases you search will be determined by who may be writing about your topic. 

General Database Search Tips

Try these strategies to become a better, more efficient searcher -- and help you find articles that you can actually use:

  • Build your search vocabulary -- keep a running list of key words, phrases, concepts, synonyms, and any related terms or ideas that you find.
  • Use advanced search features -- narrow your search with "AND," expand your search with "OR," or search in specified fields (i.e., author, title, publication, abstract).
  • Use search limits -- control the types of results you get (academic journals? language?) and how they are displayed (date? relevance?) so that you're only looking at results you can use.
  • Try multiple searches and evaluate your results -- try to figure out why you got the results you did, and adjust your search until you get closer to results you can use.
  • Use database descriptors -- once you find an article that looks good, see what descriptors or "subject headings" were assigned to it in the database. You can use these to search only for articles that have the same descriptors attached.

Pro Tips for Identifying Scholarly Secondary Sources

  1. Start with the information provided in tertiary sources!
  • Look up specific titles of books in Primo, or journal titles (not article titles) in Primo Journal Search.
  • Use the entries in subject encyclopedias to identify the academic fields interested in the topic; then identify the appropriate subject database(s) to search.
  • Use the vocabulary in the subject encyclopedia entries as search terms in databases.
  1. Mine the bibliographies and footnotes in other secondary sources. You may find one secondary source that is not quite right for your project; however, it may cite another scholarly source that would be just right!
  2. When searching Primo or a database, pay attention to the subject headings in your results. You can use the vocabulary or click to do a new search for that heading. You'll be surprised at what you discover this way! 
  3. Select the best sources, not just the most convenient sources. This may mean requesting a book from SUMMIT and/or an article from interlibrary loan, both of which take about two to five days to arrive.

Boolean Operators and Search Modifiers

Featured Subject Databases

In Class Activity

Make a copy of this Think-Pair-Share worksheet. In the first section, write down your research topic or question if you already have one developed, and take a few minutes to brainstorm some keywords and search terms you think will be helpful to find sources on your topic. After you have completed the first section, work in groups of 2-3 and share your research topic and preliminary search terms with your group members. You and your group members should provide each other feedback on your search terms and help each other brainstorm alternative ways to think about your topic and formulate different search terms and keywords. Incorporate their feedback into your search terms list and try searching for some sources in any of the available databases. Keep track of sources you find by either writing bibliographic information down or by saving your search. After you find some sources, we will regroup as a class and talk about some strategies that worked, what didn't, and how you can update and revise your search strategies. 

Google Scholar Cited Reference Search

Google Scholar can help you find articles which have cited an article that you have found. Frequent citation is often (but not always!) a marker for a particularly influential scholarly work.

Step 1: When looking at search results, check for the 'Cited by X' link underneath each result. That will tell you how many subsequent articles (that Google Scholar is aware of) have cited this particular article or book.

Step 2: Click that link, and you will be taken to a new set of results, all of which have cited the original article, which will still be listed at the top of the page. 

Google Scholar Search

Reading a Scholarly Article

During the preview phase, you'll want to concentrate on these key elements:

  • Abstract (if available)
  • First paragraph (sometimes the second paragraph, too): What does the author want to find out? What is the research question the author is asking?
  • Evidence: What are the primary sources the author uses?
  • Scholarly conversation: What are the other scholarly works (secondary sources) the author uses?
  • Conclusion (typically the last paragraph): How does the author tie the evidence together to answer the research question? What is the significance of this research?

Once you've selected the article, you can actively read for content, argument, analysis and evaluation. 

Tip: Read the article more than once! It may help to print out a copy so that you can make notes.