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Research Support

Apply Strategies for Getting Better Search Results

Search Terms

  1. List and keep track of search terms. List words that best describe your topic (ideas, concepts, nouns). Then list any related terms for these keywords. Browse potential resources for additional terms, too. Your list of search words will grow along with your knowledge of the topic.
  2. Combine search terms.
    • To narrow down results, use “AND” between search terms (for example: water resources AND Sudan) 
    • To broaden your results, use “OR” between search terms. (for example: labor OR unions OR collective bargaining) 
  3. Find specific terms or variants of a term.
    • Put quotation marks around specific terms (for example: “World Health Organization”).
    • Use an asterisk to find variants of a word (for example: child* will search child, children, childhood, etc.)
  4. Use limiters to narrow results. Usually found on the left or right columns of a results list, limiters may include dates of publication, types of resource (for example: scholarly, peer reviewed sources), different formats (for example: eresources, media), or languages of publication. 

Evaluating Sources

SIFT Method

SIFT stands for Stop. Investigate the source. Find better or other sources. Trace back to the original source to see quotes in their original context. Developed by Mike Caulfield for investigating misinformation on the web, it can be a useful tool for evaluating any source, including scholarly conversation and literature.

Introduction to SIFT

Checklist Method

Checklist methods like the only below were designed for deciding which library resources to use for a paper. A common checklist is to ask yourself some of the following questions:

  1. Currency: How up to date is the information in this site?
  2. Relevance: How relevant is the information for your needs? Is it an appropriate level (not too elementary or too advanced)?
  3. Authority: Who is responsible for the information in this source? What are their credentials?
  4. Accuracy: Does the source provide evidence to support the information? Can it be found elsewhere?
  5. Purpose: What is the purpose? Is it to teach, sell, persuade?

This test was developed by librarian Sarah Blakeslee and her team at California State University, Chico.

While the checklist method may work for evaluating a very small number of library search results, it falls short of evaluating hundreds of articles, social media posts, books and articles. Read more about the problem of checklist methods and how you can use lateral investigation to check and evaluate your sources.

What is the difference between a scholarly and a popular article

A scholarly article appears in a publication, such as a journal, which is made up of articles on a narrow topic and which document and discuss the results of original research. Publishing in a scholarly journal is a method researchers use to communicate their research and share with other scholars in their field of study.

  • Authorship: Usually by one or all of the researchers who did the research.
  • Content: Often includes a review of literature previously published on this topic, methodology used in the study, and the findings.
  • Audience: The audience for these articles is usually discipline specific, and as a result the language in articles is often technical and discipline-specific.
  • Peer-Review: Articles in scholarly publications have gone through an editorial review by a panel of experts (peer-review) to ensure that the article has met the requirements of a scholarly article.
  • Access: Many scholarly periodicals are only available through libraries. An increasing number are also available as open access publications.


A popular article appears in a magazine or newspaper that you may buy at the supermarket. The content in these publications often covers current events or summarizes research done by others. The content in these publications is often brief, written in simple language, and may include pictures and advertisements. Authors are not always named, and sources are not always identified.