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Research Help
research help

warning symbolManage your Topic

First things first: is your topic too big or too small?

You can't write a (good) three page paper about "pollution". The topic is too big! That's why there are entire books devoted to such a broad subject. Nor can you easily write a 15 page paper on a very narrow topic - you may have trouble finding enough information to fill that many pages.

Figure out the basics of your topic: The library has several databases to help you narrow or broaden your topic. By doing a little research on the broader and narrower aspects of your topic, you'll have a better idea of what information is "out there", you'll have a better idea of keywords and related subjects to pursue, and you'll have a realistic view of what steps you need to take next.

Points of View Reference Center

Points of View is a full text database providing access to information & opinions on controversial or hot topics. Database includes topic overviews, viewpoint and counterpoint articles, and critical analysis guides.

Gale Virtual Reference Library

Gale Virtual Reference Library is an online library of full-text e- books including encyclopedias, almanacs, dictionaries, and other resources.

Come talk to a librarian: we have a good idea of whether or not your topic is manageable (too big or too small), which resources are a good fit for your topic, and we can help you narrow or broaden your search strategy so you can find more information, in a more timely manner.

thumbtack on paperUse Keyword & Subject searching?

Many of us are used to diving into a search engine and typing in keywords. You can take this approach in a database, but you'll have to work a little harder (smarter) to get good results. One way databases can help you in your research is that they provide you with the option to "Subject" search. Look at the ways keyword & subject searching are different from one another. The next time you're searching in a database, switch up your approach (from keyword to subject searching and back again).




How it Works

Looks for your keyword anywhere in the article, even if it just appears once.

Looks for articles that deal specifically with the subject you've chosen.


Very! You can combine multiple keywords.

Not very. You will only get search results that deal with your selected subject.


Can return highly irrelevant results.

Example: a search for the keyword 'bacon' can bring up articles about the pork product... or the actor, Kevin Bacon.

Will return relevant results, but only within your subject search.

# of results

Usually higher: because a keyword search simply looks for your keyword(s) to appear somewhere, once, your number of results may be increased with irrelevant "hits".

Usually lower: because a subject search filters out irrelevant hits, your number of results is smaller but more precise.

graduate capScholarly vs. popular articles

Why does it matter?

The library's databases (and the Internet!) are full of both scholarly and popular resources. The difference between the two matters when:

  • your instructor has requested that you use peer-reviewed (scholarly) sources
  • you need to lend special credibility to your research: facts, data, and other "proof"

Compare some of the basic differences between a scholarly and a popular source, below.


Purpose: to inform in-depth, to share research results, etc.

Author: an expert on the topic, a scholar/scientist

Audience: other scholars, experts

Appearance: lots of charts/graphs, black & white

Length: long(er), with a list of sources cited

Peer Reviewed: sometimes the article is reviewed by a panel of subject-experts before it can be published

Sociology Quarterly cover image

Use: excellent for college-level research


Purpose: to inform on a basic level, to entertain, etc.

Author: it depends - a journalist, editor, or average citizen

Audience: the general public

Appearance: photos, advertisements, in color

Length: short(er), usually without a list of sources cited

NOT Peer Reviewed: the article will probably be selected by an editor for publication

Sociology Quarterly cover image

Use: not ideal for many forms of college-level research.

full text article iconFind Full-Text results only?

Some databases do not give you "full-text" search results automatically. To limit your search results to "full-text" (so you can read the whole article online, make sure you've checked the checkbox available in many databases to accomplish this.

Below are two screenshots of database "full-text" limiters. If you are still stuck, please contact a reference librarian for more help.



screenshot of full-text limiter in EBSCOhost screenshot of full-text limiter in ProQuest

Use 24/7 e-ref if the chat librarian is out.