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Graduate School Survival Guide

Search Tips

Use quotation marks around multi-word nouns or phrases when doing a search.

Example: “range of motion” or “knee replacement.” Phrasing forces the database to see the phrase as if it is one word.

Try broader or narrow terms. Instead of arthroscopy you may need to search for the broader term “muscle testing”. Instead of headaches, you may need to search for the narrower term of “cervicogenic headaches.” It may depend on how much research has been done about this topic. It may also depend on which database you are using because each database has control of subject headings and some may or may not be searching within the full-text. MeSH headings are universal.

Use MeSH Headings. Instead of “heart attack” use “myocardial infarction.”

Many databases permit certain punctuation to be used to search for multiple word endings. In most databases use the asterisk to truncate. In the Library Catalog use the question mark. Use the HELP page in each database for details.

Example: child*(in SmartSearch) will find child, children, child’s and other words with the root word “child.”

The words AND, OR and NOT can be used to create a complex search.

AND Example: acupressure AND “musculoskeletal system*” will find all database records with both search terms (and will also truncate to find system, systems, systemic, etc.).

Walking OR running will find all database records that have either walking or running. It’s like doing two searches at the same time. This is best for exact or very similar synonyms. This can also be used in conjunction with NESTING. The “nest” should be at the end of the search.

OR Example: stretching AND (walking OR running) will find all database records with the words stretching AND walking and also database records with the words stretching AND running.

The Boolean Operator NOT is helpful when there are lots of irrelevant results which include a word or phrase that can be eliminated from the search.

NOT Example: Political and legal topics provide a good example. Let's say you are interested in interpretations of the Patriot Act, but do not want government reports or congressional hearings. Since these are usually published by the United States Government, there is an easy way to eliminate MOST government publications in the Library Catalog.

NOT search example

  1. Go to advanced search in the Library Catalog
  2. Type "patriot act" and select keyword or subject from the drop down on the right
  3. Also, type NOT "united states" and select author from the drop down on the right
  4. Click search

This can also be read as "patriot act" (KW) NOT "united states" (AU). This will find all instances of "patriot act" that do not have "united states" in the author field in the library catalog.

Use Boolean Operators in this order for best results: AND, OR and NOT.

Learn background information and synonyms from reference sources. This is when Wikipedia is helpful, although you should also try the database Credo General Reference and the books listed below.

Create a list of synonyms. For example, try internment as well as "concentration camps" and also specific examples i.e. Auschwitz and Dachau.

Use quotation marks around phrases, i.e. "consumer behavior" or "acid rain."

Find multiple word endings. This is the asterisk in most library databases. For example child* will find child, childish, children, child's, etc.

Use "united states" not "america" or "USA."

Reviews are NOT helpful articles, unless you want to read someone's opinion about a book or movie they read or watched. Look at "types of articles" in the left column and use the check boxes to select the types of articles you want to include in the list of results. And then you still need to watch for the word "review" as a subject heading.

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Locating Books at WSU

Use the Library Catalog to search for books!

Finding a Book in the Library's Online Catalog
This tutorial will help you navigate and find books in Wichita State University Libraries' online catalog. (Guide on the Side)

Books of literary criticism are found in the library catalog. Search for the title of the book (using quotation marks for phrases) AND the word criticism as shown in this example:

"the color purple" AND criticism

Reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries are a great place to find information about your topic, especially facts and statistics. Many reference books are available online, using the search engines below. Search the library catalog to find these types of books, which are great for background information:

  • handbooks
  • textbooks
  • general encyclopedias (such as World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica)
  • subject-specific encyclopedias
  • dictionaries
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Research Basics

Basically, the best source is ANY SOURCE that answers your question. If you are asking "What recycling efforts are currently going on in Wichita" you do not want an academic journal article. However, this may be a valid question for a small part of your paper. Use a newspaper article or the city's own website to answer this question.

Most of the sources you need to write academic-level papers and literature reviews will be academic or scholarly journal articles. These are articles written by scholars, college professors or professional researchers. The handout listed below and the Prezi have more information about choosing a type of publication.

Use this set of criteria to help you evaluate the quality of the information you find, in print and online.

Currency

Accuracy

Authority

Relevance

Purpose

The CAARP handout below provides a more detailed description of the criteria used for evaluating information sources, including websites.

Check to see if the article you want to use is in a peer-reviewed, scholarly journal by search for the publication title in the MLA Directory or Ulrich's Web.

A primary source is most often thought of in terms of historical events, as shown in this video below. See our Types of Sources library guide for more information about primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

However, what is considered to be a primary source depends primarily on your own research question. Typically, diaries, photographs and patents are identified as primary sources. Scholarly journal articles may also be considered to be primary sources, if the article is about original research or theories. Here are some example questions and what would be considered to be a primary source. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

  • Who are the authors of the article I am reading so I can correctly cite this source? Primary source: the author names as published in the original journal or newspaper article.
  • What do the experts think was the cause of the financial crisis in the U.S. in 2008? Primary source: a blog post by Ben Bernanke, who was chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve during the time in question.
  • What did Topeka look like during the time of "Bleeding Kansas," a military conflict happened between 1854 and 1861? Primary source: photographs from the time period or maps showing territory and town borders.
  • Who were leaders in the civil rights movement in Kansas in the 1950's? Primary source: court documents setting precedent and identifying plaintiffs related to the topic in question.
  • What was the price of Coca-Cola in the U. S. in 1910? Primary source: Coco-Cola advertisements published in magazines during the time in question.
  • How should tungsten alloys be prepared for electroplating? Primary source: ASTM standard #B482.
  • What were the results of research which identified an important theoretical framework of human memory? Primary source: the article "Human Memory: A Proposed System and its Control Processes" written by R. C. Atkinson and R. M Shiffrin in Psychology of Learning and Motivation (1968).

Note that most primary sources have bias! Bias is an interpretation by the author. Even photographs have bias: the photographer is deliberately showing the viewer what s/he believes is of interest. Maps have bias: maps can't show absolutely everything that exists in an area, so the cartographer must decide what information to include. Also, the cartographer must decide how to alter a three dimensional shape into two dimensions, which usually presents the world with a North American bias. Scholarly journal articles have bias: the researcher is writing about what s/he thought or did and therefore must be seeing his/her results with his/her own viewpoint.

YOU as a researcher, must decide how to interpret these primary sources in your own work. Be sure to read and interpret multiple types of sources so you can be well informed and identify your own voice in the scholarship of your field.

A research project is more than collecting data and explaining what you've read. A college-level research project or paper has five general goals (Turabian ch. 2):

  1. Ask a question worth answering
  2. Find an answer that you can support with good reasons
  3. Find reliable evidence to support your reasons
  4. Draft a report that makes a good case for your answer
  5. Revise that draft until readers will think you met the first four goals

A concept map (sometimes called knowledge maps or mind maps) is a great way to organize your research topic and brainstorm keywords for searching. It's also a good way to visually lay out how the different parts of your topic fit together. 

The main idea (your topic) is at the center of the concept map, with the subpoints and keywords surrounding it. 
Use lines and arrows to show connections between the various aspects of your topic. 
Since most topics/research questions usually have multiple aspects, create a spearate "bubble" for each one, then brainstorm syonyms or alternate keywords.

The following are some online tools that will allow you create a concept map for your topic:

MindMeister
bubbl.us
Popplet
Text 2 MindMap

Research is not research until you have focused it a round a solid research question that addresses a problem or issue (Badke ch. 2).

Turning your research topic into a research question will provide you with a reason to search for information.

  • What purpose do quilts have in modern Native American culture?
  • How did Native Americans get started on quilting in the mid-ninteenth century?
  • Why are quilts used during burial services and other ceremonies related to death in many Native American tribes?

You would want to pick one research question on which to focus your paper or research project. Sometimes it is necessary to learn more about your topic to create a good research question. Encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia are great for background information. The reference databases Credo and Gale Virtual Reference Library are also great choices.

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Tutorials

A thesis statement is one sentence that tells the focus of your paper. It explains the argument presented in the paper or makes a debatable claim.

TIP Write a working thesis statement even if you are preparing a speech or preparing a display project. Refer to this statement often during research to keep you focused.

TIP Don't get too sidetracked reading articles or following leads that aren't relevant to your paper. (Save irrelevant articles to a special folder to be read later or tell yourself to get back to this irrelevant topic later so you can keep focused.) However, remember that it is usually o.k. to change your topic or slightly shift your topic, at least up to a certain point before the due date.

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