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Research Handbook: How to Start Your Research

If at any point you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact one of our librarians.

  • Look through your textbook, class notes, and other materials to see what sparks your interest
  • Choose something you are interested in learning more about. Remember, you will be spending a lot of time researching and writing about it
  • How would you describe your topic to someone who knows nothing about it?
  • What keywords or terms would you use?
  • Do these keywords or terms have any synonyms?
  • As your research progresses, use more specific or additional keywords to find more specific resources. Use broader terms or less keywords to find additional resources that include information on your topic
  • Try using the Search feature at the top of the Library's homepage to search all print and online resources available to students, faculty, staff, and administrators at SUNY Schenectady
  • Look at the Databases by Subject on the Library's website and select one of the databases (collections of resources available online) that looks relevant to your topic
  • If your instructor has suggested a database, try using it
  • If you are unsure where to start, try using a general database such as Academic Search Complete or Academic OneFile

You might be interested in some of the tutorials available on our Tutorials LibGuide that will walk you through how to search various databases and for books.

  • This is best done using the Advanced Search feature of the database
    • Put one keyword or concept on each line
  • Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to expand your search
    • Boolean operators are words added to a search to make it broader (OR), more specific (AND), or to exclude a word or term from the search (NOT)
      • AND finds results with all of the search terms used
        • Best used between different keywords or concepts
        • guns AND violence AND children
      • OR finds results with at least one of the search terms used
        • Best used for synonyms
        • guns OR weapons OR rifles
      • NOT excludes results that include the term or terms after the word NOT
        • Guns NOT rifles
  • Quotation marks
    • When using quotation marks to search in a database it's important to use them when the combination and order of words is important in searching for specific information
    • Indicate the phrases within the quotation marks need to be found next to each other in that order
      • "black dogs" will find only items with the words in that order, next to each other
      • black dogs will find all items that have both words somewhere in the item, whether the words are next to each other or in that order or not
  • Date of publication (also known as Currency)
    • Limit your results by Date
      • How recent do your sources need to be?
    • Ask your instructor if your assignment does not provide this information
  • What types of resources do you need to use?
    • Limit your results by Format or Type
    • Ask your instructor if your assignment does not provide this information
    • See the section in this LibGuide on Common Types of Resources for more information on common types of resources available

Step One

1. Read the title, the abstract, and the introduction. 

2. Read the section and subsection headings but ignore everything else. 

3. Read the conclusions. 

Step Two

1. Read the title, abstract, and introduction again. 

2. Read the entire paper, focusing on figures, diagrams, and illustrations.  Skip over complex mathematics. 

Step Three

1. Identify the paper’s contributions.

2. Re-read sections that are unclear.

How To Start Your Research

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