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Beyond Google: Research for College Success

Search strategies to locate sources


  1. Learn about types of information collections in databases
  2. Identify the coverage of a database
  3. Understand the concept of advanced searching in a database
  4. Construct effective search queries using logical operators and related strategies
  5. Understand the purpose and parts of a citation


If you are reading this Lecture #3, I hope you have already completed Quiz#3. There are no readings this week from the e-textbook. Your first draft of your annotated bibliography (due next week) requires you to find articles from the database OneSearch, which will be introduced to you shortly (see below).  In addition, I have included the definition of "database" from, as you already know, my favorite dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary.  

This lecture will also introduce you to search strategies and techniques.  Please pay close attention so that you may mimic these exercises [demonstrated] when you are ready to explore your own research topic in the assigned databases.   

The lecture will end with a brief introduction to citations, which are a vital part of creating traditional bibliographies as well as annotated bibliographies.  As you browse through the examples, please note the ones to be used for ARTICLES.  

Any questions you may have, please do not hesitate to email me or drop by my virtual office hour.   

3.1 Definition of Database

According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, 3rd edition, a Database is structured set of data held in computer storage and typically accessed or manipulated by means of specialized software. Also in extended use. Cf. base n.1 12c.In quot. 1955   perhaps: a body of information.A database in its simplest form typically consists of a single file containing multiple records (record n.1 9), each of which has data for a particular set of fields (field n.1 19). relational database: see relational adj. 3.

1955   Q. Jrnl. Econ. 69 155   A thoroughgoing character classification of federal government activities, à la J. R. Hicks, would provide the data-base necessary for this kind of stabilization policy.
1962   Techn. Memorandum (System Development Corp., Calif.) tmwd-16/007/00. i. 5   A ‘data base’ is a collection of entries containing item information that can vary in its storage media and in the characteristics of its entries and items.
1967   N. S. M. Cox & M. W. Grose Organization Bibliogr. Rec. by Computer iv. 83   The Search area provides a means of querying the data base.
1972   Science 3 Nov. 472/1   The data base from which the volumes are compiled is maintained on magnetic tape and is updated weekly.
1985   Sunday Times 10 Mar. 80/3   CIR went through its data-base looking for companies interested in investing in new ideas in electronics.
1985   Ashmolean ix. 1/1   A museum and its records are one vast database.
1996   F. Popcorn & L. Marigold Clicking ii. 58   Display screens will be hitched to a central database holding untold thousands of works of art.
2002   Guardian (Nexis) 3 Oct. (Online Pages) 4   The Google API allows anyone to write programs and create web pages that search Google's database.
2009   N.Y. Times (National ed.) 30 Apr. a25/1   Mr. Marcia rushed the rape kit to the crime lab... It produced..a match in a database of the DNA of previous offenders.
Oxford English Dictionary Online, 3rd edition, 2012.  The OED offers not only meanings and pronounciations to over 600,00 words, but differs from other dictionaries in that it offers the history of individual words. 

3.2. Database Coverage

Given the above definition of a database, know that you utilize databases all the time whenever you try to search for something. Here are a few examples you may utilize everyday not realizing it is a database:

HULU or Netflix an online streaming platform that provides a collection of on-demand online streaming videos an online marketplace that provides a collection of products for sale.  As of 2021, known to be the world's largest online marketplace.
Zillow an online real estate agency that provides a collection of homes for sale and apartments for rent in the United States an online travel agency that provides a searchable collection of air-tickets, hotel reservations, and car rentals.

Much like Hulu,, Zillow, and, every Academic database contains a certain type or amount of information, a characteristic called "coverage."  The "coverage"  can typically be found in the database itself under links such as "About [name of database]," "Database information," "Title list," or "Sources," etc. Web-based databases are typically accessed from a link that is annotated with some information about coverage.  Consider the following elements of an Academic Database:

ELEMENTS Examples in each element
What kinds of documents are in the database?

journals, magazines, newspapers, books, book chapters, dissertations, audiofiles, videos, films, statistical tables, images, Web pages, software applications, etc...???

Which discipline does it cover?

general (no specific discipline); engineering; business; medicine and allied health; social sciences (i.e., psychology, education, sociology, political science, etc.), science & technology, and so on...
What time period? The current year?  2000-2015?  1850-1950?  How often is the database updated?  
What languages are included?

English only? Spanish and English? Chinese? Arabic? Other languages?

Which publication types? Scholarly? Popular? Trade? All three?  Government documents? Others?
What is included in the record?

A whole article or chapter (full-text) or just a brief description (abstract or bibliographic citation)?  Publisher and title?

Databases @ the CSI Library

The CSI Library subscribes to over 200 databases for students and faculty to utilize for their scholarly endeavors.  This LINK will take you directly to an A to Z list of databases available at the CSI Library.  Most of these databases are linked into OneSearch, which is CUNY's portal to research materials and you will learn more about it in the module below this section.  For the novice research, it is beneficial to use OneSearch.  For the upperclassman or faculty member in a particular discipline, it will be most beneficial (and easier) to utilize a discipline-based database.  Here are examples of discipline-based databases and topical databases:

Discipline-Based Topical
Education Source Academic Video Online
Grove Music Online
MEDLINE Complete EthnicNewswatch
MathSciNet LGBTQ+ Source
PsycINFO Opposing Viewpoint

3.3. Finding Books, Articles, Videos, and OneSearch

OneSearch is the portal to a collection of books, newspapers, journals, magazines, music scores, DVDs, and materials to the archives and special collections that are available at the CSI Library and in other libraries throughout the City University of New York.  Think of OneSearch as the to all information resources at your Library.  OneSearch allows you to search across all the collections at the same time.  Please click on this LINK, to learn from an interactive tutorial that will teach you how to utilize OneSearch to search for materials from the CSI Library.   Take the quiz at the end of the tutorial. NOTE: When prompted for your email, please include your instructor's email (with a comma and no space), in order to be graded.  Worth 25 points.

3.4. CREATING a search query

phrases  |  logical operators  |  truncation  |  wild cards  |  nesting

Most databases don't understand the natural language we speak and need help understanding what we're looking for. For this, they require a special set of conventions, including the following listed below.  In your Blackboard Week #3 Folder, a video on "Tips for Effective Search Strategies" will further explain these.  You can use these conventions in Google as well.

Quotation marks Around exact phrases (e.g. "college of staten island" will retrieve information about CSI and omit information about colleges or staten island). 
Boolean operators

Connecting words that narrow or broaden a search to include only what you need.  Examples: AND, OR, NOT


Wild cards and truncation symbols

(* # ? !)

For terms that have variant forms of spellings or different possible endings.  Examples:

child* will retrieve child, children, childhood, childish, etc. 

technolog# will retrieve technology, technologies, and technological

wom?n will retrieve woman and women

gr!y will retrieve gray and grey


Placing terms in parenthesis to indicate separate units.  It will look like an equation.

( (Internet and Children) NOT toddlers).  This should yield information on all children above the age of toddlers.  

3.5 Let's look at the results of a search using Google and OneSearch ...

Using the topic of "Sex-Trafficking," the table below illustrates results from a search in Google and in OneSearch.  Note how each search incorporates one or more of the conventions mentioned above to (i.e., quotation marks, Boolean, and nesting.) effectively narrow down the search results.

Results from Google Results from OneSearch                  
Sex trafficking 1,290,000,000  406,856
"Sex trafficking" (quotation keeps the words together in the search) 13,800,000 20,723
"Sex trafficking"  NOT "human trafficking" 1,910,000 12,432

("Sex trafficking"  NOT "human trafficking") AND prevention

Nesting ( ) keeps separate units together

803,000 1,946
(("Sex trafficking"  NOT "human trafficking") AND prevention AND "united states") 416,000 1,155
RESULTS Includes: thousands of government reports, images, commercial and non-profit websites of organizations dealing with topic, statistics and data on the topic, books for sale on the topic; open access articles, citations to fee-based articles, and more. Includes 79 newspaper articles, 10 books, 103 book chapters, 819 articles (of which 589 are peer-reviewed), 45 reference resources, 16 reviews, and more.
The results are ranked for you using an algorithm that anticipates the most popular and relevant information about the topic.  This algorithm is influenced by number of times a webpage has been browsed through or searched for. You have to be knowledgeable about command searches to retrieve results specifically in chronological order, and other categories. 

Unlike Google results, databases allow you to manipulate data results by sorting the results by date (most recent or oldest), by relevance, author, source, etc.

These library databases have sources that have been vetted as scholarly sources, so no need to look further. 



3.6a. TMI: What to do when you retrieve too much information

Here are some tips if you find too much information, or too little information, or the wrong information in your search.

  1. Try looking at an irrelevant record that your search retrieved.
    Can you figure out why the database gave it to you? Did you use one word that the computer misunderstood? See if you can use a more specific term or maybe a short phrase that excludes the meaning you don't want. Try adding a new term which makes your old term more specific.
    • INSTEAD OF Japan and economy TRY Japan AND economy AND (auto or automobile or car)
  2. Check where in the record your search terms matched.
    The best matches for topics are in fields like Subject or Title . Look for an Advanced or Expert Search option in the database to search in specific fields only, if you can.
  3. Use limiters when they're available. Will the database let you ask for publications only in English? Can you ask for only journal articles? Want more recent information? Is there a subject heading that covers your topic? Can you get rid of book and film reviews? Play around with your options and see if they help. Try using the operator NOT.

        EXAMPLES of ways to narrow searches:  

  • (Iran and Iraq) NOT war -- this search should retrieve everything about these two countries, excluding war articles.
  • Hussein NOT Saddam -- this search should retrieve information about  people named Hussein, with no articles that include Saddam Hussein (unless the article only refers to him by last name) 
  • +Jazz -Utah -- this search should retrieve information about Jazz in Utah and/or the basketball team Utah Jazz. (Try this search in either Google or OneSearch to find something on your favorite sports team - Chicago Bulls, New York Giants, etc.)
  • +"line dancing" -Maine -- this search should retrieve information about line dancing in Maine.

3.6b ... and when you find too little information???

Too little Information

  1. Did you spell your search terms correctly?
    Research databases are remarkable tools, but they don't come equipped with spell checkers. One misspelled word can sink an entire search. Check a dictionary.
  2. Get rid of long phrases.
    When you type in a phrase, all the words must appear in exactly that order before the database will give you anything. Some databases automatically put the operator AND between the words you type, turning your phrase into a long Boolean search string.
    • INSTEAD of "discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Vietnam TRY discrimination AND ethnic Chinese AND Vietnam
  3. Try using alternative terms.
    That's what you gathered all the extra vocabulary for. Don't forget truncation or wildcards for variant forms of a word.
  4. Try to come up with broader terms for the idea you need.
    Every so often, it happens that there's very little written on a specific topic, but a lot on the general area.
Very Narrow Hillary Clinton AND media representation
Narrow women candidates AND presidential campaigns
Broader  women AND politics
Very Broad sexism AND politics

3.7. Ways To Avoid Obtaining the Wrong Information

You may avoid using the wrong information or wasting time doing research in the wrong database or website by doing the following:

  1. Check the coverage of the databases you're using.  Do they cover the kinds of material you need?  The right discipline(s)?  The right kinds of documents?  The right dates?
  2. Check the “About Us” webpage. Does the mission of the website cover what you need? When was the website last updated? 
  3. Try looking up databases by subjects.  From the library's homepage, click on the tab for Databases, then use the drop down menu and select a subject.  Browse through the description of each database and note the coverage periods. 
  4. Try using the Journals list link.  You have to know what general field your subject falls under?  Journalism & Communications? Social Sciences? Business and Economics? Law, Politics, & Government, Physical Science & Mathematics, Health and Biological Sciences? Try a few of these and see where you can find your subject.  Then try using some of the databases you find linked here.  

3.8 Example of an Annotated Bibliography for Periodicals

3.9a. Citation! Citation! Citation!

A citation is a brief description of one specific information source, usually appearing in a bibliography, list of references, or a database. It includes enough information to permit the reader to find the source and may appear in a number of variant formats, e.g. American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), or Chicago Style.

A citation is made of parts, each part indicating specific information about the source. You can usually tell what type of source is being described by looking carefully at the citation. The citations below refers to an article found in a journal called the Journal of Social History:

MLA Style

Guy, Donna J. " The Women's Suffrage Movement in Argentina from Roca to Peron." Journal of Social History, vol 47, no.1, Fall 2013, pp. 238. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/jsh/sht015.

APA Style

Guy, Donna J. (2013).  The women's suffrage movement in Argentina from Roca to Peron. Journal of Social History, 47(1): 238. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/jsh/sht015.

3.9b. Here's how you keep track of the sources you plan to use in your research paper

As you search databases for sources to support your research paper or annotated bibliography, you need to keep track of sources of interest that you anticipate using, i.e. books, reference resources, magazines, journals, Websites, etc.  Why? Well, this information will later be used for a citation, which correctly presents (or introduces) the source of each annotation you write up.  The table below provides at least one type of information you will need to write down with each of its important parts labeled for sources for the drafts of the annotated bibliography assignment. While the chart below follows the MLA style, you will learn more details about Citations in lesson 6 & 7:

Book: Example book citation
Article in a periodical: Example Article citation
Sources on the web: Example web citation
Online Article Example Online Article Citation


Click on the hyperlinked title to see how you can cite Images and Other Multimedia from MLA 8th edition.


Click on the following hyperlinked titles to see how to cite information from a Webpage from a News Website, Television, Video & Podcasts, and  Social Media from APA 7th edition. 



Now, go back to Blackboard Course site for LIB 102...

Please log in to BlackBoard to complete the following listed in Lesson#3 for Lessons for Week#3.  Any assignment, quiz, or tutorial given in this lesson MUST be completed on or before February 14, 2023 and submitted by 11:30pm.  

  1. Don't forget to watch the tutorial on using OneSearch in 3.3. A mini quiz is attached for 25 points. You will need this resource to find all sources for your annotation bibliography.
  2. Watch and respond to discussion forum about video - "Danger of a Single Story" - 30 points
  3. Watch the tutorial on "Tips for Effective Searching."
  4. Submit your research question for approval on or before February 14, 2023 - 25 points.
  5. Prepare for mini-quiz on February 15, 2023, which will be based on the above readings and modules in Blackboard for Lesson #3.




CREDIT: With permission, partial content on this web page was adapted from the University of Idaho Information Literacy Portal.