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CRE 151 (Neumann) by Brea McQueen: Before You Search!

Start Here!

The brief videos and tutorials on this page show how to choose the best keywords, refine a search, and evaluate the information you find. There is also information explaining what a "peer reviewed" article is and teaching you to build more effective searches.

Developing Keywords

Academic databases do not function in the same way as a search engine like Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo. You cannot enter a question or phrase and get results. Instead, you search using keywords.

To develop some keywords:

  • Start by thinking about what you are researching and maybe even write it down so you can visually look at and deconstruct your research question

  • Look for main ideas or key phrases in your research question or topic

  • Build a keyword word list: start by taking those main ideas or key phrases that you pulled from your research question but also extrapolate and include synonyms or other related terms. 

Check out this Credo tutorial for a more hands-on guide to developing keywords. Once you have your keywords, you're ready to begin your searches in the database.


Peer Reviewed Articles

What does "peer reviewed" article mean?
Peer review is the process by which articles are selected for publication in academic or scholarly journals. The articles are evaluated for accuracy, proper research methodology, and the correct interpretation and use of data. This review process is done by other experts or researchers in the same field of study who are the authors' peers, and that's how the process got its name. Articles in magazines, also called popular articles, do not undergo this type of review process, although an editor does do basic fact checking and make grammar corrections. Peer reviewed articles are also sometimes called "scholarly articles" or even "journal articles." If your assignment instructions use any of these phrases, the instructor probably wants you to use peer reviewed articles. It is best to clarify directions with your instructor when there is any uncertainty.

How do I know if an article has been peer reviewed?
Most article databases have a checkbox that allows you to limit your search to only journals that include a peer review process. You still need to make sure the item you want to use is an article, however, because peer reviewed journals have other types of information in them besides reviewed articles. For example, they may have a section of reviews of new books that have been published in their field, or they may publish opinion pieces or letters to the editor. None of those go through a peer review process. 

For more information
Watch this video about Peer Review to learn more!

Search Tips

“And”, “Or”, “Not” (Boolean Operators): Use the words to narrow or expand your search results. For Example:

  • “automobiles” AND “accidents” will return results that contain BOTH of the terms.
  • “juvenile” OR “adolescent” OR “teenager” will return results that contain at least one of the terms. Useful for words with similar meanings.
  • “cinderella” NOT “rock band” will return results that are about Cinderella, but NOT the 1980’s rock band by that name.

Use an * at the end of a root word to find all variations of that word. For example, child* will search for child, children, childhood, and children's.

Brainstorm words or concepts that are similar in meaning and use those as additional search terms connected by OR. For example:
college students OR undergraduates OR university students
climate change OR global warming OR greenhouse effect

If you find a good resource, look at the “Subject Headings” or “Descriptors” listed and use those as additional search terms.

Bibliographies/References/Works Cited pages are great ways to find additional resources. You can search the library’s Catalogs and/or Databases to find copies of the sources cited in an article or book that was perfectly on topic for you.

Tutorials and Videos