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IWU OCLS Tutorials: Develop a Search Strategy


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Getting Started


Getting started on a research project can be overwhelming (and sometimes the hardest part of the research process!). This page explores how to develop a search strategy that you can use to find the most useful information in a timely manner.

This process can be broken down into four major steps:

  1. Choose a Topic
  2. Identify Main Concepts & Keywords
  3. Choose Databases
  4. Analyze & Improve Your Results




Review The Assignment


Before you begin your research, you must understand the requirements of the assignment. If you have any questions about an assignment, it is best to contact your instructor before beginning your research.

Assignment requirements are important and will determine what types of sources you need. 

Your assignment says to use 2 scholarly, peer-reviewed references. So what does this mean? Well, it means you must find, read, and analyze two academic journal articles that are peer-reviewed to write your paper. You will also need to reference them correctly on your references page and provide correct in-text citations within your paper's text.


Some good questions to ask yourself:

  • If the topic is not already set, what topic do I want to write about?
  • How many pages should it be?
  • How current must the information I use be?
  • How many sources do I need?
  • What kinds of sources do I need? Books, articles, websites? Scholarly or popular articles?



OCLS Digital Library


The OCLS "digital library" is all the materials you can access outside the physical library, including ebooks, streaming videos, and subscription databases. 


You can search everything IWU owns or subscribes to by typing your search terms in the OCLS QUICKsearch search box on the OCLS website. This search box is called a discovery tool and is like Google for OCLS but without ads and sponsored links. 


A database is a collection of articles or other items that can be searched, and IWU pays a subscription fee so you can use them. Examples of subscription databases include general reference databases like EBSCO Academic Search Complete, JSTOR, or ProQuest Academic Complete and subject-specific ones like the business databases EBSCO Business Source Complete and ABI/INFORM Collection. 


There are several benefits to using subscription databases. 



One obvious benefit is free and easy access to publications you can't find on the open web with a Google search, and that would otherwise be expensive to access. Unless you have your own subscription to these publications, you can generally only read a few articles on the publisher's website each month. When OCLS subscribes to a database that includes these publications, you can read current and back issues for free. 



Another benefit of subscription databases is they are organized in a way that helps you find what you need. Even when you are searching general databases, you can limit your search to if the library has full-text access, when the articles were written, who wrote them, and whether or not they have undergone an important quality control process called peer review and many other useful criteria. Conducting focused searches in subscription databases with almost always give you more relevant results than you would get from a Google search.   


Reliable Results 

Still another benefit of subscription databases is that the results they return are more likely to be reliable. That's because the information included in subscription databases is vetted and qualified people make decisions about which publications should be added to them. This oversight reduces the advertisements and other junk that can dominate the early pages of your Google search results. There are no guarantees, but the information you find when searching in subscription databases tends to be fairly reliable. 


Full-Text Databases 

The subscription databases mentioned here are what we call full-text databases. There are databases where you can find entire articles, like what you typically find when using Google Scholar. 


A&I Databases 

Another kind of database is an abstract and indexing (A&I) database. A&I databases are usually subject-specific and are used by advanced researchers. A&I databases do not give you the whole article but will give you a summary or abstract. That's the downside. The upside is you can search in more precise ways than you can using keywords.  


If you find something interesting in an A&I database, then you can track down the full-text article by searching for the name of the scholarly journal using the Journal Title Search or by searching for the name of the article in QUICKsearch

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