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Sociology 191: Senior Capstone (Whitt)

Higher Education in the U.S.

Step 3 - Find Research & Information Sources

How & Where to SearchDecorative element: Icon of Albert Einstein drawn in outlines

Finding information requires a lot of skills that you may not be aware that you have or that you are developing. Use this page to learn strategies for HOW to find the most relevant information to meet your needs. 

Use the sub-pages to learn WHERE to search for research on your topic or question.

Keep in mind that sources are not fixed in time, but are parts of an ongoing scholarly conversation about a topic. For example, Albert Einstein started a conversation about relativity and quantum mechanics, but since his day, the discourse has grown and grown with new discoveries and new ideas in the field of Physics, its subfields, and other related fields. 


Check out information in Step 5 about Citation Trails to learn how to discover additional citations to relevant works to help you answer your research question.

How to Search - Basic Skills

You can use these basic search techniques with almost any search interface -- from library catalogs, to search engines, to library databases!

Searching is as easy as 1, 2, 3!

1. AND OR, and NOT (Boolean Operators/Search Logic)

Boolean Operators are also sometimes called Logical Operators and they perform specific functions to your search. Not all databases require the use of AND and OR in capital letters, but we recommend that you use them in all caps as a habit. 

AND narrows your searchNoun Project icon of a Venn diagram showing overlap in the middle of two circles symbolizing where they appear together

Use AND in between different concepts to ensure these different concepts appear together in your search results. The Venn diagram to the right represents the idea of the search results occurring ONLY in the narrow place where the two concepts overlap. 

  • EXAMPLE: Students AND college AND success

OR broadens your searchNoun Project icon showing two overlapping circles completely colored in symbolizing all concepts are included

If you're not sure what is the best keyword to use, you can include multiple keywords connected with OR to search them all. OR means that at least one of these keywords will show up in your search. The graphic to the right implies that any of these concepts (or all of them) can be included in your search results. 

  • EXAMPLE: "College Students " OR Undergraduates 

NOTNoun project icon: An X overlaid on a circle suggesting exclusion of this concept

The NOT operator will exclude something from your search.

  • EXAMPLE: Colleges NOT Electoral
  • EXAMPLE: Performance NOT Sports (for example, academic performance)  

Using AND, OR, and NOT in a Search

Depending on the database, you may have a single search box or you may have an advanced search screen with multiple boxes. You can use the logical operators AND, OR, and NOT in either situation. In a single box, you can use parentheses () to isolate your terms, but if you have multiple boxes, you do not need to use parentheses. 

Here is an example of a search in each scenario using either parentheses or individual boxes to isolate the similar concepts like cow, cattle, and livestock.

Single Search Box

Basic search screen in Academic Search Complete showing a search for: Students AND (College OR University) AND success

Multiple Search Boxes (called the "Advanced Search" screen in most databases)

Advanced search screen in Academic Search Complete showing a search for: Students AND (College OR University) AND success

These searches using AND and OR regardless of whether you use a single box with () or multiple boxes, should produce the same results in this database. Follow this permalink to see this search's results in the database.

2. Phrase SearchingNoun project icon: one set of end quotation marks

Put quotation marks around a known phrase to search for an exact match. Be careful to only use quotation marks around a known phrase so that you don't accidentally miss relevant results.

  • EXAMPLE: "Higher Education"

3. Truncation / WildcardNoun project icon: asterisk

Use the wildcard symbol, an asterisk (*) to find variations of the same root word.

  • EXAMPLE: Universit* will find University and Universities
  • EXAMPLE: Comput* will find Computer, Computers, Computation

Step 3 - Pause to Reflect

Pause to Reflect

Did you find the information you needed? Will it help you answer your research question? If not, it might be time to reach out to a Research Librarian for an appointment. Decorative element: Icon of a standing person in a pensive pose with a thought bubble above their head

As researchers, we should approach the evidence we find with an open mind. Research should broaden or inform our perspectives, and not confirm our own biases. If your research is just a collection of cherry-picked quotes, you may need to go back to the library catalog, UC Library Search, or the article databases to gather more information and other perspectives to consider.