MGP 220. Field Experience: Middle Level Environment: Research Tips

What is boolean searching?

Boolean operators are the words "AND", "OR" and "NOT".  When used in library databases, they can make each search more precise - and save you time!

AND:  AND narrows a search by telling the database that ALL keywords used must be found in an article in order for it to appear in your results list. Search for two or more concepts that interest you by combining descriptive keywords with AND. 

For instance, if you're interested in reading articles about how young people feel about politics, you can search for youth AND politics.  All articles in your results will include both keywords.  Often, databases will allow you to specify where in the article you want those keywords to appear (title, abstract, full text, etc.).


 

 

OR:  OR broadens a search by telling the database that any of the words it connects are acceptable. This is particularly helpful when you are searching for synonyms, such as “death penalty” OR “capital punishment.” 

So, if you type in death penalty OR capital punishment, your results will include articles with either term, but not necessarily both.


 

NOT: NOT narrows your search by telling the database to eliminate all terms that follow it from your search results. This can be useful when:

  • you are interested in a very specific aspect of a topic (letting you weed out the issues that you're not planning to write about)
  • when you want to exclude a certain type of article (book reviews, for instance, aren't typically helpful when writing a college-level paper)

Use NOT with caution as good items can be eliminated from the results retrieved. 

In the example below, searching for sex education NOT abstinence-only will return articles on sex ed, but not those dealing with abstinence-only approaches.

Scholarly Peer Reviewed Articles

"Scholarly" and "peer reviewed" are often used synonymously, but they are not necessarily the same thing.   Peer reviewed articles are always scholarly, but not all scholarly sources are peer reviewed.   It may seem confusing, but it makes more sense if you think of "scholarly" as an umbrella term for several different kinds of authoritative, credible sources.  These include:

  • Peer reviewed journals.  These journals primarily exist to publish the research findings of experts in a field. The articles that you see in these journals have been closely scrutinized by a panel of reviewers (also experts in the same field) before they are published. 
  • Trade or professional journals or magazines.  The articles in these periodicals are also written by and for experts, but there is no peer review.  The articles aren't limited to research...they may be news, best practice tips or opinion pieces. 
  • Government publications.  Many government agencies publish books, reports, data or statistics.  Government researchers, like those who publish in peer reviewed or trade journals, are often experts in their field.
  • Books.   Many researchers publish books or book chapters.  

How can you tell if an article is scholarly?  You will have to do some detective-work, but there are some telltale signs:

  • Author(s): Ideally, you should rely on information that has been published by an expert..someone who has studied the topic long and hard.    Most scholarly publications will list an author's credentials (their degrees -- M.S., Ph.D., Ed.D., etc. -  and the institution that they work for) along with his or her name.
  • Content:  Look for articles that cover a topic in detail (more than just a few pages long, typically).   It will probably include some kind of literature review, and discuss the work of other authors, in addition to any original research findings.  Make sure it cites its sources (a scholarly article will always have a "references," "bibliography" or "works cited" list). 
  • Audience:  Scholarly articles are written for professionals in the field.  You will probably notice a lot of technical language and/or discipline-specific jargon.  The tone will be formal.
  • Publisher.  Visit the journal's website to see what organization publishes it.  Professional associations, universities and government agencies are particularly good signs.  As you become more experienced, you'll also start to recognize major publishing companies in your field of study (Wiley, Elsevier, Sage, etc.).
  • Purpose and scope.  When you're on the journal's website, look for an "about" link to learn who the intended audience is and what kind of articles are accepted.

What is Open Access?

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