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Humanities: Search, Evaluation, and Citation

Library research guide for the Humanities.

Best practices for searching library databases

The databases at Olin Library have different search interfaces, but they do share basic search principles. Some of these principles are listed below.

It is good practice to look for the Advanced Search option in each database that you use. The advanced search page will usually make it very clear as to how you can control your search using Boolean search techniques, limiters, field searching, etc.

Boolean Searching

Boolean Searching is the cornerstone to an effective search strategy. Boolean searching refers to searching using a combination of words and the three Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT.  A best practice is to capitalize your Boolean Operators.

AND will make your search smaller. If you are retrieving too many records on your topic, try adding another search term with the operator AND.

For example: "krispy kreme" AND marketing

OR will make your search bigger. If you are retrieving too few records on your topic, try adding another search term with the operator OR.

For example: (adolescents OR teenagers)

NOT will exclude a word from your search results. If you are retrieving too many records on an unrelated topic, try eliminating a word with the operator NOT.

For example: dolphins NOT football

 

Phrase Searching

To search for two or more words in the exact order in which they are entered you should enclose the phrase in quotation marks " ".

For example: "obsessive compulsive disorder"

Truncation

Truncation allows you to search the root form of a word with all its different endings by adding a symbol to the end of a word. Truncation symbols vary by database (check the help screens or ask a Librarian), but are usually one of the below:

* (asterisk) ! (exclamation point) ? (question mark)

For example: advertis* will search for advertise, advertisement, advertising, advertises

Field Searching & Limiters

Each database has a variety of predefined fields or limiters that you can search within. Some examples of fields and limiters are:

title; abstract; author; publication title; date; geographic location; company name; document type; publication type; scholarly or peer-reviewed

Scholarly and Peer-Reviewed Sources

Has your professor required you to use scholarly or peer-reviewed sources? A scholarly journal contains articles which have been reviewed by a panel of subject specialists or experts prior to their publication. Another term for a scholarly publication is “peer reviewed”. These can be identified by characteristics such as thorough citation of sources in footnotes or endnotes, and use of discipline specific language. Some databases allow you to limit your search to peer reviewed journals, or index olnly peer reviewed journals; however, a peer reviewed journal might include some features (e.g. editorials and book reviews) which are not themselves peer reviewed. Books can also be scholarly sources; in addition to the same citation and terminology standards you'd expect in a journal, consider the book's publisher. (A university press is a good sign.)

 

Evaluating Sources

Q: How do I know if a resource is good?

A:  Test it with the C.R.A.A.P. test

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

• When was the information published or posted?

• Has the information been revised or updated?

• Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?

■Are the web links functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

• Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?

• Who is the intended audience?

• Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?

• Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?

• Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

• Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?

• What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?

• Is the author qualified to write on the topic? • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?

■Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

• Where does the information come from?

• Is the information supported by evidence?

• Has the information been reviewed or refereed?

• Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?

• Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?

• Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

• What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?

• Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?

• Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?

• Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?

• Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?