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The Research Process: Step By Step

The following guide can help you navigate the research process using resources at the FIU Libraries

research TIPS!

  • Start off with getting a general understanding of your topic by collecting background information through things like encyclopedias, basic Internet searching, news, etc.
  • Build on that basic information by researching your topic across other formats and resources like books, periodicals, databases, etc.
  • As you continue to search narrow down our topic to make it more manageable and specific, use the tools built-in to the databases and other resources to help guide you, such as subject headings, tags, related searches, etc.
  • Ask for help!

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We're here to help! 

Librarians are here to provide research help to students, faculty, staff, and community members.

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Chat/IM a librarian, Ask Us!

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Email your question. asklib@fiu.edu

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Schedule a research consultation.

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LibGuides: Research & Subject Guides

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Hours for Research Help

WHERE TO START

I have the topic, but I'm not sure how to approach researching it... Is the Internet the best choice for my research...?

You don't need to be an expert on a topic to do a report about it.

A good place to start (especially if you don't know much about your topic), is the Library Catalog to help you find books that give you general information. Encyclopedias are good for concise explanations and contextual data. A librarian can recommend the best encyclopedias or other reference materials you may want to use.

Build on your basic information and skills. Avail yourself to information in all formats: Books (on the shelves and online); Periodicals (journal, magazine, newspaper articles both on the shelves and through databases); Digital media (videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc.); and even some Internet sites.

Your professor will tell you whether you are allowed to use Web sites as resources. Most people can surf the Internet and find topical information but cannot determine if what they've found is accurate, objective or up-to-date. 

For assistance on developing the most efficient research strategy and identification of local resources, contact a reference librarian at the library or via Ask Us.

STEP 1: FINDING RESEARCH BY SOURCE TYPE

These are reference databases. In general, they are full-text and offer dictionary and encyclopedic articles on a variety of topics. This is a great place to start your research and get basic knowledge, keywords/vocabulary, history/background, and key figures related to your topic.

In these general databases, you will find articles from all disciplines. There are a variety of media types for most subjects and topics. If you are combining topics, this might be a great place to find interdisciplinary articles. Make sure to check "peer reviewed" if the option is available and your professor requires scholarly articles.

Use these databases to find information on contemporary and popular issues. They offer articles on current and controversial topics. Some will have expert pro/con papers from research leaders in their fields of study.

Are you looking for a current topic or one that is related to local information? Comprehensive news collections are ideal for exploring issues and events at the local, regional, national and international level; Its diverse source types include print and online-only newspapers, blogs, newswires, journals, broadcast transcripts and videos.

STEP 2: SEARCHING THE DATABASES

Create a Search Strategy

 

Combine your keywords/search terms with Boolean operators

  • OR (synonyms: any of these words)
  • AND (restrict: all these words)

Break your research topic into keywords.

  • Many databases use specific terms to label documents, use these "official" database terms from the results that work for you
  • Try the thesaurus or subject headings

Use parentheses with your terms and Boolean operators to create your search phrase

  • exp. (cat OR kitten) AND (wild OR feral OR homeless)
Determine your conditions and apply them to your search as limits or filters
  • exp. publication year, document type, or Peer Reviewed
Place quotation marks (“ ”) around phrases to keep words together. 
  • Use this for an exact quote, phrase or order of the search term. exp. "latin america"
Add asterisks (*) to “fill-in-the-blank” at the end of a word 
  • The asterisk will be replaced by any applicable letters
  • This is called truncation
  • You can use asterisks as a shortcut for OR-ing words that have identical roots
  • For example, paint* will search for paint, painting, painters, painterly, etc.

Each database may have different features that will expedite your searches.

Look at links and/or icons for these functions:

  • In some you can create a free account to save citations, searches, or research for later review.
  • Use the built-in citation generators
  • You can often e-mail citations or the full-text to yourself or a colleague.
  • See if the database allows you to export a citation directly into RefWorks or another bibliographic management program.

Use Boolean operators (the words AND, OR, and NOT) to combine your search terms.

  • Use AND when you want to include all of two or more terms together in the same search – use with independent concepts. AND will limit your results with each additional term.
  • Use OR when you want to include any of two or more terms in a search – use with related concepts. OR will expand your results with each additional term.
  • Use NOT when you want to exclude a term from your search. NOT will limit your results and is useful to avoid retrieving irrelevant items, but use NOT with caution! By excluding an item that briefly mentions the unwanted term, you might be excluding an otherwise useful resource.

You can use as many Boolean operators as you like in a search phrase, but include related concepts in parentheses to keep the phrase organized (this is called nesting). For example:

Dog OR Canine AND Bark NOT Tree: Messy

(Dog OR Canine) AND (Bark NOT Tree): Clear

For more information and practice exercises, see the Boolean searching guide by the Colorado State University Libraries.

Boolean Operators: Pirates vs. Ninjas

An introduction to the basics of Boolean operators. Created to support information literacy instruction at Lincoln Memorial University's Carnegie-Vincent Library.