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How to Begin Research

  • Overview and Objectives
  • Library Website
  • Google vs. The Library
  • Research Question
  • Search Strategies
  • Quiz

In this section we'll discuss the following:

  • The library website
  • Librarians at OCU
  • Why the library is better than Google for college research
  • Research questions
  • Search tips and tricks

By the end of this section, you should be able to do the following:

  • Navigate the library's website efficiently
  • Explain how librarians can help you
  • Explain when to use Google, Wikipedia, and the library
  • Develop a search strategy
  • Explain how Boolean operators affect searches

The library website is always a good place to begin research. The URL for Dulaney-Browne Library at OCU is www2.okcu.edu/library. In these modules, we'll ask you to navigate to various search interfaces on our website. It's a good idea to click around and familiarize yourself with what's available there. Here's a quick overview to help:

Library Homepage

1. Go to the About Us menu and click "Staff" to find out which librarian supports your major or field of study. Or follow this direct link to find out who the librarian in your discipline is. Listed beneath each librarian's name is their subject area and contact information. Email or call them for an appointment the next time you need research help.

2. Librarians build Research Guides that pull together library resources in a specific field of study. For example, the History guide links to databases, reference resources, websites, and other resources in the field of History. The Kinesiology guide does the same for Kinesiology, and so on.

3. The gray tabs allow you to search the library catalog, the EBSCOhost journal article databases, Oxford reference resources, and Ebrary from the homepage. Be sure to use the dropdown menus to narrow your searches.

4. The chat widget allows you to IM a librarian between 9am and 9pm during the week. This is useful when you have questions, but aren't near the library. You can also text a librarian at 405-445-3636.

5. The "Borrow Items from Another Library" link takes you to our interlibrary loan service. Use interlibrary loan to request books and articles that Dulaney-Browne doesn't own. It's free!

Remember that a librarian's most important job is to help you with your research. You can always visit a librarian at the reference services desk on the first floor for one-on-one help. At OCU, there's a librarian at the desk from 9am to 9pm Monday through Thursday and from 9am to 5pm on Friday during the fall and spring semesters.

Librarian helping a student

Just Google it!

Yeah, we know you Google for info. Librarians use Google too. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Google is good for quick information needs--a map to that new Mexican restaurant, the name of the actor in the Darth Vader suit in Star Wars, or the name of the Roman god of hearth, home, and family. It's just not ideal for assignments that require credible evidence from scholarly, well-documented research. Google gives you way too much of everything--literally millions of pages sometimes.

Google Search Results

Google and Wikipedia are good for warming up on a topic. For college assignments, however, library resources like scholarly journal articles, scholarly books, and, in some situations, scholarly websites are more appropriate. So feel free to start with Wikipedia. But use scholarly sources once you're warmed up and ready to support your arguments with scholarly evidence. You'll find that scholarly research at the library and on the library website.

To be fair, Wikipedia sometimes links to citations of scholarly journal articles that could be useful for your research. Feel free to use those scholarly articles. But don't cite Wikipedia entries themselves for your paper. It's definitely not appropriate to cite Wikipedia unless your professor has given you permission to. The problem, of course, is that anyone can edit Wikipedia. The content could come from an expert or an elementary school student.

Edit Page for the Progressive Era Wikipedia Entry

A Place to Start

If you start research with only a vague idea of what you're looking for, it can be easy to miss crucial information.

Before you read any further, please watch this short video:

If you know to look for the surprise in the video, you definitely see it the first time. If you don't, it's easy to miss it.

The same principle applies when you start researching a topic. That's why you should figure out what you're looking for before you begin searching.

Formulate a Research Question

Coming up with a research question is a great way to start.

Let's say you're doing research on video games and education. Easy enough, right? How about this? Do video games make people violent?

Not bad. But it could be better. For one thing, this is a yes-or-no question. For another, it could be more specific. Who, more specifically, are we talking about and where do they live? What kind of video games?

Let's narrow the topic by focusing on a specific age group and place. Let's also rephrase the question with words like How, When, or What to make it an open-ended question.

How do games like Grand Theft Auto lead to aggressive behavior in teenagers in the United States?

That's better. Now we have something to work with.

Those two guiding principles are great to keep in mind for any research question:

  • Make the question open-ended using words like How, When, or What
  • Be specific

Next, underline the key concepts in the question:

How do games like Grand Theft Auto lead to aggressive behavior in teenagers in the United States?

Working with these concepts, brainstorm related terms and synonyms that could help you do a keyword search in a database or search engine.

aggression; violence; video games; teens; high school; ESRB rating; computer games; MMORPGs; Call of Duty; United States; bullying; correlation; cause; North America

Keep this store of terms nearby as you conduct your searches. They'll help you locate relevant articles and books as your research evolves. When one set of search terms doesn't work, you'll have plenty of others to try.

To Boolean or Not to Boolean

Ever heard of Boolean searching? Boolean operators? Nice. (Either way: nice.)

AND, OR, and NOT are Boolean operators that go between keywords in database searches. Some databases put Boolean operators into your searches by default and you don't see them. For example, Google puts an AND between each of your keywords, even though you don't see them by default. EBSCOhost does too.

But not all databases handle Boolean the way Google and EBSCOhost do. Our library catalog, for example, places an OR between keywords by default. To use Boolean searches in the library catalog, choose the Keyword (and, or, not "phrase") search from the dropdown menu next to the search box.

Here's how Boolean operators work.


The search dog AND cat will return only results with both the words dog and cat in them. Results with just dog or just cat will not appear. In general, adding an AND between keywords narrows your search.

and diagram


The search dog OR cat will return all results with dog, all results with cat, and all the results with dog and cat (i.e., a lot more results than the AND search). In general, adding an OR between keywords expands your search.

or diagram


The search dog AND cat NOT ferret will return results with both dog and cat in them but remove from the results anything with the word ferret.

not diagram

Phrase Search ("")

Enclosing two or more keywords within quotation marks is called a phrase search. A phrase search returns results if they contain a term with everything between the quotation marks exactly as you typed them between those quotation marks. For example, the search "John Wayne" will return only those pages or records where the word "John" and the word "Wayne" appear exactly one space apart and in that order. Without the quotation marks, you'll get a lot of irrelevant results--anything with John and anything with Wayne in addition to the relevant results with John Wayne. (The search "John Wayne was a Cowboy" will return only those results where that exact sentence appears.) Here's how a John Wayne search works in the library catalog when we don't use a phrase search, and then when we do.

Search John Wayne in the library catalog using the default search and no quotation marks and you'll get over 10000 results.

John Wayne Results with 10000 results

Use the Keyword (and, or, not, "phrase") search and search "John Wayne" and you get 37 results. This is a great example of how a phrase search can help you narrow results to a more relevant set of results.

John Wayne Phrase Search with 37 results


Before you answer the questions, be sure to fill in your name and class information so it will appear correctly on the submission page. The submission page will appear automatically when you click the submit button at the end of the quiz. Print the page and turn it in to your professor.

First Name: Last Name:

  1. Close-ended research questions are best when developing a research topic.
    FalseCorrect. Open-ended questions are best when developing a research topic. They tend to provoke more creative thinking and analysis that will help you flesh out your research deliverable.This statement is false. Open-ended questions are best when developing a research topic. They tend to provoke more creative thinking and analysis that will help you flesh out your research deliverable.

  2. What is a research guide on the library website?
    A guide to using a single library resource, usually a book or a periodical.
    A collection of web pages that features library resources in a subject area like Psychology, History, or Nursing.
    The area on the library webpage where you can chat with the librarian.
    A webpage with links to useful search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.Correct. Research guides are collections of library resources aggregated by discipline.Research guides are collections of library resources aggregated by discipline.

  3. What is interlibrary loan?
    Interlibrary loan is a service that allows you to check out books from other libraries. You request items through an online form.
    Interlibrary loan is a book delivery service run by clerks at the library. It's like fast food, except with books!
    Interlibrary loan will allow you to check out a book for a friend who doesn't have a library card.
    All of the above.CorrectInterlibrary loan is a service that allows our library to request books from other libraries. Take advantage of it!

  4. What is a librarian's most important job?
    To check books in and out.
    To catalog books for the website so they're easy to find later.
    To aid you with your research.
    To guide you toward the library restroom.Correct. Librarians may help you with those other important things, but their greatest expertise lies in the realm of conducting research All these options represent things a librarian might do, but research help is what a librarian is really there for.

  5. What are Boolean operators used for?
    Developing a research topic via database searching.
    Widening and narrowing your search in a database.
    Their purpose could depend on which database you're using.
    All of these.Correct. Boolean operators can perform all those functions.Boolean operators are an advanced search technique and may not always be necessary. They're usually best when searching for very specific information. They can accomplish everything listed here.

  6. Wikipedia sometimes links to trustworthy sources.
    FalseThis statement is actually true. Wikipedia authors do sometimes link to credible sources at the bottom of entries.This statement is true. Wikipedia authors do sometimes link to credible sources at the bottom of entries.

The following questions will help us evaluate this module and make improvements. Please answer honestly.
  1. Is this your first time completing this module?
  2. What was most/least helpful about this online session?

  3. Do you have a better understanding of how to begin research than you did before this online session?
    No, not at all 1 2 3 4 5 Yes, much better

  4. Overall, how useful was this online session?
    Not Useful 1 2 3 4 5 Extremely Useful

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