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Academic Research : Conducting Research

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Conducting Research

Jump to a Section

Section 1: Conducting a Simple Search

Section 2: Conducting an Advanced Search

Section 3: Searching and Using Filters

Learn more about searching the library's catalog by visiting
the Library Catalog Searching guide.

Conducting a Simple Search

You can conduct a simple search through the library's homepage search box located just below the navigation tabs.  Once the search button is clicked, you will be redirected into the library's catalog where the search results will be shown. 

Conducting an Advanced Search

An advanced search allows you to focus your search with additional search terms and limiters.  Go to the Advanced Search for the library catalog by clicking on 'Advanced Search' underneath the search box on the home page. 

Once at the Advanced Search page, type in your search terms and add any limiters. 

Searching and Using Filters 

Conducting a Search

Performing a search for items in the catalog can be as simple as typing in keywords related to your search and hitting the search button.

You can also combine keywords in different ways:

  • Typing multiple keywords in a line (marijuana chronic pain) will search for results where all the keywords occur close together.
  • Putting words inside quotation marks (“students in higher education”) will search for results containing an exact phrase.
  • Putting AND between words or phrases (students AND anxiety) will search for results that have both words/phrases in them, no matter how far apart they are.
  • Putting OR between words or phrases (“first-year students” OR “freshman”) will search for results that contain either word or phrase, whether separately or together.
  • Putting NOT before a word (pandemics NOT influenza) will exclude results that contain that word.

Search results will automatically default to materials held by McGovern Library.  To view all possible materials, select "Libraries Worldwide". 

Filtering Results 

If your first search brings back too many results, or your results don’t seem relevant, you can use the filters available on the left side of the screen underneath “Refine This Search”.  These filters hide results that don’t match your selections. The more filters you use, the fewer results you will get, but selecting the right filters can make your results more relevant. Some of the most commonly used filters are explained below.

Held By Library: This field indicates where the material is held at. If the material is not located at McGovern Library, the search will default to Libraries Worldwide. 

Format: There are different types of material format.  The most common are Articles and Books.  To limit to only physical books located within the library, check the box next to 'Print Book'.  To limit only eBooks that are available to read online or download, check the box next to 'eBook'. 

Content Type: There are many types of content, including genres and peer-reviewed materials. 

Publication Year: Publication date limits can be added to narrow and focus search results.  When conducting academic research for current issues, searching the last 5-10 years is recommended. 

Audience: Audience type limits to Juvenile and Non Juvenile materials.  This filter is useful when searching for children's and young adult materials located.


Jump to a Section

Section 1: What is a Database?

Section 2: Finding a Database from the A-Z List

Section 3: An Example Search in Academic Search Premier

Learn more about searching the library's databases by visiting
the Database Searching guide.

What is a Database?

In the context of libraries and doing research, the generally accepted definition of a database is "an electronic collection of searchable information on one or more topics."  The easiest way to think about databases is to imagine them as living behind a locked door within the internet.  This means, that went you do a regular internet search (such as searching Google), you won't find and see what is inside.  And it is important to remember, that some of the best information available for academic research is locked behind this door. 

With all of these great materials locked behind closed doors, you might be wondering where that leaves you, and how you can access these materials without spending money.  The great news is, you can access these locked materials through the library.  The library has purchased subscriptions for various databases utilized by our students and faculty members.  Because of this subscription, you as a student researcher, can access all of the materials within the database (that are usually locked behind closed doors), for free.  

Accessing Library Databases

The McGovern Library provides access to over 100 databases, many of which are subscription based and are not free to the general public.  To access the library's databases, click on the Database List button on the library's homepage

From the homepage, you will be redirected to the full list of databases provided through McGovern Library. 

Finding a Database From the A-Z List

If you know the name of the Database you would like to access, you can either type the name of the database into the search bar, or find the database in the A-Z list.  You can also jump to a letter, for example, selecting 'M' to quickly locate the database Mitchell Daily Republic

If you don't have a specific database to search, but want to find a database within a specific subject area, you can limit the databases by subject.  Click on the "All Subjects" dropdown menu and select the desired subject area. 

Choosing a Database to Search

With over 100 databases to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which database is the best to search in.  Before you get overwhelmed with the amount of choices, follow the steps below to help narrow you choices to find the best database for your research. 

  1. Determine the Scope of Your Assignment
    Your first step in choosing a database is to determine what the scope of your assignment is.  Read through your assignment's requirements and determine what types of materials you will be needed to locate and cite.  Also, determine the subject area of your assignment.  Identify the primary and any secondary topics your assignment will cover.  You might have more than one subject area, and as such, you might need to conduct your research in more than one subject specific database. 
  2. Find a Selection of Databases
    There are two types of databases, multi-subject and subject-specific.  A good rule of thumb is to start your research in a multi-subject database to see what different groups are saying about your topic (such as what scientists are saying versus what economists are saying).  Once you have a general understanding of the broader academic conversation, you can begin searching in subject-specific databases. 
    • Multi-subject databases, like their name implies, provides materials covering a topic from several different subject viewpoints.  
    • Subject-specific databases focus on one subject area, and will dive more deeply into a topic than materials provided by multi-subject databases will.  To locate a subject-specific database, select the subject area you would like to search, in the drop-down menu for "All Subjects". 
  3. Begin Your Research & Find Additional Databases
    Once you have a list of databases to search, begin your research.  As you work through the various databases and compile your research, you may notice that you are finding materials and topic areas that land in a different subject.  Go back to the A-Z database list and locate databases in your secondary topic's subject area and search those databases as well.  

An Example Search in Academic Search Premier 

Once you select the database Academic Search Premier from the A-Z database list, you will be redirected to the page shown below.  This page is the Advanced Search page, and will allow you to add in various limiters to your search from the beginning.  

Next, type in your keywords and search terms.  Also, add in any limiters you would like to apply from the beginning.  Below is an example search for college students and social media usage.  We will add in limiters in the next step after we search only these terms. 

This search provided 45 search results, which is a fairly manageable number.  We could stop our search here, or we could add in additional limiters.  Additional limiters will allow us to focus our search results more, and will ensure that we are finding results desired.  If the additional limiters bring the search results to zero, we will know that our original search terms were too narrow, and we will have to broaden our search terms. 

We will add the following limiters (which are show in a screenshot below):

  • Publication Date Range: 2015-2020
  • Full-Text
  • Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journals

Once your limiters are in place, you can begin looking through the results.  Find an article you like, and click the title.  This will bring you to the article's record and will provide additional information.  Below are some of the additional pieces of information provided. 

PDF Full Text: A PDF copy of the article.  If this is not here, you will need to request the article through Inter-Library Loan to access and read. 
Title: The title is always located at the top of the record, followed by the author and publisher information. 
Subject Terms: These terms are created and provided by the authors, but are great terms to use for subsequent searches.  These terms are also linked (which allows you to click on the term and be re-directed to a search result page for that term).
Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the article, and is written by the author.  Always read the abstract to determine if the article contains information relevant to your research. 
Cite: Citations are provided by the database, but should always be checked before used in case of errors. 

Jump to a Section

Section 1: Introduction

Section 2: Search Engines

Section 3: Popular Websites

Section 4: Linking McGovern Library to Google Scholar

Section 5: Search Tips for the Internet

Section 6: Evaluate Your Sources

Learn more about searching on the internet by visiting
the Research on the Internet guide.


Most of us know that we should take the information we find on the internet with a grain of salt, but often we want to believe what we find as fact.  And while there are many wonderful sources on the internet and great materials can be found, many times the information found on the internet is false, misleading, or created to make you feel a strong emotion. 

So what should you as a researcher do?  Many would say that avoiding the internet is the only way to go, but unfortunately many materials live solely on the internet or cannot be easily accessed through other sources.  At times, you will need to search the internet for resources, but there are things to do, to ensure the materials you gather from the internet are accurate, trustworthy, and of a high enough quality to include in your college-level research.

This guide will walk you through the challenges of researching on the internet, and will provide you with tips, tricks, and knowledge on how to effectively use the internet for great research.

Search Engines

All searches start somewhere.  And where you start your search will have large implications to where you end at and what you find.  Below are some of the most common search engines you may have heard of and possibly already use.  It is important to remember that search engines are merely tools, with different features.  The decision to use one search engine over another is often a personal preference, so try out multiple to see which search engine fits your needs and styles best.  And remember, don't lock yourself into just one option, switch it up and see what else might be out there. 

Google is synonymous with searching and finding knowledge these days. It's so omnipotent, it has even been verbed to literally mean "find the answer." Google is the go-to resource for many, and for good reason. However, there are drawbacks to using the same tool for all tasks, and Google is no exception. We encourage anyone doing a research project to start with Google, but never let it be your only search tool. Which is why you're using this guide in the first place!

DuckDuckGo has become a major competitor for Google to the "security minded." DuckDuckGo's claim to fame is that they are a search engine that doesn't track your information. One reason this matters, is because they must rank information based on factors that don't include your previous search history or where you live, two major aspects to Google's search algorithms. So why use it? Privacy is nice, but it is also a great way to see if you're missing out on information that Google may have kept you from seeing.

Bing is a solid search engine in it's own right, though is often forgotten or even maligned in comparison to Google. In truth, Bing is powerful, clean looking and is an amazing image search engine with very powerful image and video search capabilities. A big difference in the search algorithms of its counterparts, Bing also prioritizes older information from "more reputable" sources, which means your results might vary wildly depending on topic from another search engine.

Popular Websites

Popular websites are popular for many reasons, including their content and views. These sites are easy to get to and are often the sites shown first in search engine searches. Popular doesn't mean correct. Remember to always be skeptical and use critical thinking skills when coming across and using any resource located on the internet.

Wikipedia is one of the top results listed on most searches. We are often told not to use Wikipedia because it is unreliable, but write off the site so quickly. Information within Wikipedia is changed and updated often, but it is also regularly policed for accuracy. If you are searching for older, established information and facts, similar to what you would find in a book, Wikipedia is a great place to begin your search. Identify base information and facts about your topic through Wikipedia. Wikipedia might be a great place to start your search process, but it should not be the end. 

Google Books: is a great resource for finding print materials, especially older, harder to find books. Sometimes, sections of books are available on Google Books to read for free, but be careful about cherry picking books sections and missing context. If you need a full book, you can always get it through the library catalog

Google Scholar: is often the "go to" tool for students when they need scholarly materials. The most common hang-up with using Google Scholar when searching, is finding great resources and articles, but running into paywalls that block the access to materials. Because of this, it is highly recommended to search using the Library's Databases.

Linking McGovern Library to Google Scholar

Before you start searching Google Scholar, take a moment to link McGovern Library.  By doing this, Google Scholar will allow you to access more scholarly articles (those that are held behind paywalls) by searching the McGovern Library databases.  If an article is held by McGovern Library, you will be redirected to the library's catalog record of the article, and asked to sign-in if accessing the material while off campus. 

Step 1: Go to Google Scholar (

Step 2: Open up the menu button (the 3 lines located in the top left corner)

Step 3: Open up the "Settings" feature within the menu

Step 4: Click on Library Links and type in "Dakota Wesleyan University" in the search box

Step 5: Check the box "Dakota Wesleyan University, McGovern Library - McGovern Library Fulltext" and save

Step 6: You will be redirected to the Google Scholar homepage where you can begin searching

If an article is owned and held by McGovern library, a link entitled "McGovern Library Fulltext" will be provided by Google and located to the right of the article title and description. Click on the link to be redirected to the Library's Catalog where you can view the full text article. 

Search Tips for the Internet 

Below are tips to help you more effectively and efficiently search the internet. 

Tip #1 
Search with the answer in mind, not the question. 

When typing in a search query (question) into a search engine, rephrase your search to get the answer instead of other people asking the same question (and hoping the answer is in the comments). Working backwards with the answer in mind will help get you the information you are looking from - and find the answers from better sources. 

Tip #2
Start broad and narrow it later.

It is always easier to narrow your search area than to spread it out, so it is fine to start your search by throwing a very wide net and focusing your search inwards as you go. If you are interested in basic information, Wikipedia and Google are great places to start to gather your base knowledge. These searches can help provide names, dates, and scope.  

Tip #3
Gather the same information from multiple sources. 

If you are finding the same facts and information in more than one place, that is wonderful. But make sure you use and cite all of your sources in your research, not just one. This will strengthen the information and show that you gathered and pulled information from more than one source, and that is a great thing. 

Tip #4
The Golden Resource might not exist. 

That perfect piece of information that ties everything together may not exist from a reputable source. If you are looking for an item that explains your topic from your bias, the perfect, singular resource may not exist at all. You will have to pull information from several sources and make your case without relying on only one source.  

Evaluate Your Sources


Before using a source in your research, evaluate the material to determine if this source is reliable, accurate and is of high enough quality to include in your college-level research. 

Who Wrote It?
Ask yourself the following questions.  By determining these answers, you will be better able to determine if the information and source is reliable and high-quality.

  • Who is the author? 
  • Can you find the author as an individual and find other writings by them? 
  • Did the article/information come from the organization that published the information?  

When Was It Written/Published?
Depending on your topic and scope, you will need to decide whether the information you gather is the most current information available, or if it needs to come from well established, older sources and materials.  Medicine and Technology, for example, may require information to be more current, whereas History may require more established, or older and verified information.  This will all depend on your topic and its scope.  And remember to be mindful of how old the information is and what that means for the quality and reliability of the information. 

Is There Bias?
Bias can come both from the source of information as well as you as the researcher.  Ask if you are bringing in your own biases, or in other words, are you coming at the research question from different angles, or are you searching only one search engine using only one set of keywords.  Varying how you access information, gathering from different sites and using different search engines, can help provide wider perspective and keep you from locking in to one mindset as you search and write.  Rethink keywords to ensure you are searching for the meaning or concept.

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