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Research Smarter: Information Literacy Skills: Finding Sources

Build essential research skills for college success and lifelong learning.

Search Plan

Use a Search Plan to approach your research strategically.

A search plan has three parts that work together to help you find your sources.

search plan hierarchy with tools, strategies, and you underneath it

Where will you look for information?

Search tools may be open web, like Google, or "deep web" or "hidden web", like Library databases.

Some standard search tools for any topic or subject include:

  • Google
  • Wikipedia
  • "Search Everything"
  • ProQuest Central
  • Gale Power Search
  • Credo Reference

How will you look for information? What techniques or hacks will you use in the tools you choose?

Some helpful strategies include:

Keywords, search terms - the words you choose matter

"Exact phrase" - putting 2 or more words inside quotation marks turn them into a single word; so "black cat" looks for results with these 2 words as a phrase. Without the quotation marks, the tool will look for the words black and cat anywhere in the results

Suggestions from the tool, such as other library databases to use, topic suggestions

Subjects or indexing terms - these #tag the source and help you find others like it that use the same #hashtags

Filters or Limiters such as date or source type (academic journal, ebook, etc.)

3 "Magic" Words

  • AND - combine keywords or search terms (eagles AND bears); results must have both words

  • OR - include alternatives for keywords or search terms (eagles OR bears ); results will have one word or the other, maybe both

  • NOT - eliminates keywords or search terms (eagles NOT bears); results will exclude results that contain the keyword after NOT

Advanced search guides you through using several of these strategies, and more

What will you do as you search and start finding results?

You need to be:

  • Flexible - Be willing to change directions based on what you find, or don't find. This could mean changing your strategies, your search terms, and possibly your working thesis or even your topic.

  • Persistent - Try, and then try again. Maybe switch up your strategies or change your search tool. Consider your keywords or search terms - remember, the words you choose matter and they can make or break a search.

  • Willing to Ask for HELP - Freshman and sophomores in college aren't expected to know how to do college-level research. You are beginners who are learning quickly. Know when to ask for help. The Library and your instructor are great resources. Use them!

Librarian Favorites for New Researchers

Power Search Tools

Use these to find all types of source, including research starters (explainers), scholarly/academic sources and popular sources, such as news, magazines, books, and more.

Library Search Tools A-Z

Complete list of all available library search tools and research databases.

Searching for Information

Search Terms

Search Techniques


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