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Effective Searches

Getting Started with Research

Research is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions." Throughout college you will be required to do research and write papers for most of your classes providing you with an opportunity to learn a valuable set of skills. The ability to locate, evaluate and reinterpret information, which is the essence of research, is a life skill and large part of what your college experience is about.

There are several steps and hints that can make the research process more manageable.  This guide is designed to help you in your quest to find the right sources. Our goal at USC Upstate it to help make people Information Literate, that is people who can use the library and do research effectively. As with most things the more you practice the better you get, research is a skill that must be practiced and developed. 


 "Research." Research: Definition of Research in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US). Oxford University Press. Web. 14 Oct. 2015. 


 Make sure to write down all of the bibliographical information (author, title, place of publication, publisher, date of publication, page numbers, URLs, creation or modification dates on Web pages, and your date of access) or enter the information into your computer or a citation manager so you can find it later.

 Remember that any source without bibliographical information is useless - if you can't cite the source,  you can't use the source.

General Tips for Searching

 Be knowledgeable about the sources you should be searching.

Before you begin research on a topic, take time to determine where to best start looking.  Think about the keywords that will lead you to information, and any synonyms or alternates that might also be helpful.  Planning can save you an immense amount of effort.

Narrow your search strategies based on the information you know

Most scholarly databases and search engines allow you to narrow keyword searching to specific parts of records. A clear example is to narrow by author or title if you know this information. Most resources also allow searching subject headings or descriptors, too.

Some resources allow other types of searching. For example, the catalog allows keyword searching by call number, ISBN, or ISSN. If you know any of that information, you can devise more effective search strategies by narrowing which fields you search.

Learn about the advantages of any database you use before you start searching and you be a more efficient searcher.

Combine keyword searching with controlled vocabularies, subject headings, and descriptors

Most resources use controlled vocabularies, also referred to as subject headings or descriptors, to provide access to materials.  MeSH is an example of a controlled vocabulary.  These are often helpful for finding materials that belong to a genre. By limiting keyword searching to a few terms from a controlled vocabulary, you can conduct more fine-grained searches. 

Other useful search tips

  • Use AND, OR, and NOT to conduct more powerful searches. Some resources also allow proximity terms like NEAR that will search for terms within several words of each other.
  • Use wildcard symbols to broaden searches. For example, to search for all resources about yachts, you may keyword search for yach*, which would find all resources that include words like yachts and yachting. Common wildcards are "?" and "*."
  • Avoid searching for common words like "information" or "book."
  • When in doubt, read the help files for the specific resource you are search.


Thanks to the University of Wisconsin for sharing these helpful tips.

Selecting Relevant Articles