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General Research and Reference  

Last Updated: Feb 26, 2014 URL: Print Guide Email Alerts

Research Basics Print Page

Understand your Assignment

Have to write a Literature Review but have no idea what this is? 

Have to write an annotated bibliography instead? 

Have a different type of project to complete, like a research paper, book report or exam essay? 
Want to talk about your project with a peer adviser or a faculty writing/math specialist? Use the CAE's website to make an appointment or see drop in office hours.

Getting Started

As you begin your research process, think about the scholarly conversation you want to enter and the types of questions you have.
Consider some functions of research and writing:
  1. polemical
  2. inventive
  3. creative
Ask yourself questions to help identify your goals:
  1. Does this correct an error?
  2. Am I bringing up something that has been forgotten?
  3. Does this offer a new idea or approach?
Try to frame your developing research question/s with one or more of these questions:
  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. When?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?
  6. How?
  7. So what?
Think about the types of resources you will need to address the question(s) you raised and where you can acquire these items:
  1. Books -- Via library catalogs like OASys or Oxy WorldCat 
  2. Journal Articles -- Via free tools like Google Scholar or subscription databases
  3. Newspapers and other periodical content -- In print or through a subscription database
  4. Images and/or audiovisual material -- Via Google Images or another resource listed here

Basic Boolean Searching

Although some of Oxy's databases, like EBSCO, will let you search them in a natural (think Google like) way, many of the resources you have access to require you to connect your search terms to each other using words like AND, OR and NOT. Databases that ask you to specify the relationship between your terms are performing Boolean searches. Although some resources do not require you to input Boolean connector words, many of these sites - including Google! - can run a Boolean search for you.

Confused about what it means to AND, OR and NOT your terms together? Confused about where you would input this information when you are using a library catalog or running a search on Google Scholar? This video should clarify those questions (as well as many more).


Advanced Searching Tips

And, or and not - which we learned about using in the video above - are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways we can connect our keywords together or modify the search we are running.

Quotation Marks are used to search for an exact phrase. For example, in looking for information on the Pacific Ocean, use quotation marks around "Pacific Ocean". Without quotation marks, "pacific" and "ocean" would be searched as individual terms, yieldiing results about Billy Ocean and the Union Pacific Railroad.

Parentheses are used to organize your query by nesting terms when more than one Boolean operator is used. For example, (Europe OR America) AND "agricultural maps" would find agricultural maps that pertain to EITHER America or Europe. 

Truncation allows you to search for variations on a root word. Although each database may use a different symbol to truncate - the most common are exclamation marks (!), asterisks (*), and question marks (?) - truncation always tells the system to find you all versions of the base word you entered. For example, 'democra?' will search for democracy, democrat, democratic, etc.

Wildcards search for variations in the middle of words, so a search for 'wom*n' will search for woman and women. Symbols vary depending on the catalog or search engine, however the most common are asterisks (*) and question marks (?).

Want to know what the wildcard or truncation symbol is for the database you like to use? Click on the HELP link and look for information on search mechanics or search syntax.


Get started on a specific topic:
Research Guides by Subject


Books about the Research and Writing Process

The online companion to the Hacker book is available here.

Cover Art
A Writer's Reference 6th edition - Diana Hacker
Call Number: PE1408 .H2778 2007
ISBN: 0312450257
Publication Date: 2007
Reserve Material - available at Checkout Desk


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