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Develop Research and Information Literacy Skills

How to Search for Information in the Library

Unlike internet search engines, the library databases do not understand entire sentences, questions, or long phrases. You will need to select the most important words from your topic to use in your library searches: the keywords.

Example Topic: What was the impact of the Black Death on the culture and economy of medieval Europe?

Keywords: impact, Black Death, culture, economy, medieval Europe

What was the impact of the Black Death on the culture and economy of medieval Europe?

Watch this tutorial to learn more about developing keywords for library searches.

Authors often use different terms to describe the same research idea; therefore, it is helpful to use synonyms or related words for the keywords you have chosen.

Try to think of at least one synonym for each of the keywords you have selected from your topic.



Synonym or Related Word

Black Death

Black Plague


Middle Ages

Most library databases offer built-in search tools that allow you to limit your results by the following:

Subject: Use them to find sources about that subject.
Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journals.
Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look for limiters on the advanced search page or in your search results to find these tools and more.

It is important to evaluate the information you find in order to select credible resources to support your research.

When you use high-quality sources to back up your points, you demonstrate your own credibility as a writer, thereby contributing to the effectiveness of your argument. The best quality research builds on other high-quality research. This is true of both your own work and the work of professional researchers.

There are several factors to look for when evaluating a source’s credibility:

Authority Who is the author and/or publisher? Is the author/publisher reputable or does it have an established reputation in the discipline and/or field? Does the author/publisher have specific expertise or knowledge to publish on this topic?
Accuracy Is the information or research accurate or valid? Can the same or similar information be verified by other sources?
Objectivity Does the information express a specific point of view or opinion? Is the information written by an organization that supports a stated agenda? Is it based on factual evidence from research or experiment? Does the point of view affect the accuracy or reliability of the information?
Currency What is the publication date? Is the date relevant for the subject area/topic? Is it too old? Could a more recently published source provide new and/or different information?​​​​​​
Audience Who is the intended audience for the information? Is it written for a general readership, such as an article in a newspaper or magazine (popular sources)? Is it written for people who work in a specific industry (trade publications)? Is it written for a scholarly/academic audience (scholarly sources)?
Relevancy Does the source meet the requirements for this assignment? Does it cover your topic comprehensively or does it only focus on one small aspect?
Assessing the Credibility of Websites

The domain suffix of a website (the postscript at the end of a web address) can be a good indicator of the the website's authority and accuracy.

  • .com Commercial Site
  • .gov Government Agency
  • .edu Higher Education
  • .org Organization. May be charitable, religious, or a lobbying group.
  • .mil Military
  • .net Internet Service Provider
As you conduct your research, you may find external website sources providing additional information, research or commentary. As with any external source, please fully evaluate and verify against assignment resource parameters. If you have questions on selection of a resource, please feel free to connect with the course professor for review.

Watch this tutorial to learn more about evaluating sources for credibility.

Use this checklist to help you evaluate the credibility of websites as research sources.

Did You Receive...

Use the AND operator to connect your keywords to find only sources that mention all of your keywords. This will focus your search and give you fewer results.

Example: "Black Death" AND culture AND economics

Use the OR operator to search for a keyword along with its synonyms or related words. This will expand your search and give you more results.

Example: ("Black Death" OR "Black Plague")

Use the asterisk symbol (*) to truncate your keywords, or search for all of the various endings of a word. For example, truncating the keyword cultural to cultur* will tell the database to search for...







Use quotation marks around key phrases. This tells the database to search for the words all together as a phrase. 

Example: "Black Death"

Instead of searching for everything Black and everything Death, you are searching for the exact phrase Black Death