Knowing where to find what types of information can save you time and frustration. Here's a strategy for finding information in the sciences that can help you find the most useful information most efficiently.
Get background on your topic
Books don't represent the most current research on a topic. They summarize what is known. They can help you get a better idea about the big picture of your topic, which will let you understand how the more specific references you find later fit in.
Help focus your topic
Reading broadly about your topic will help you narrow down what you're interested in. Writing a brief paper about a broad topic doesn't give you a lot of room to pull together your own ideas. You'll risk boring yourself and your professor! Books and chapters can help you pick out the angles of a topic that are most interesting to you.
Find some significant references
Academic books and chapters will cite the resources the authors used. You can use their reference lists to find more background information on the aspects of the topic that interest you.
Use the library catalog to search for books, chapters, reports and theses on your topic. These are materials that OSU owns in print or electronic form.
Not everything you find on the web will be something you would cite in a paper for class, but it can still help you wrap your head around a topic and learn some terms related to your topic you might not have thought of.
The research databases OSU subscribes to tend to focus on scholarly research articles, but they contain other materials, too. These may be items from scholarly journals that are not about research projects (editorials, reviews), government reports, news, or popular magazine articles.
|Magazine articles||Research articles in scholarly/technical journals|
|- Written for a general audience||- Written for experts in the field|
|- Narrative structure||- Follows the IMRAD format|
|- Don't include references||- Always include references|
|- Reviewed by editors; Not peer reviewed||- Peer reviewed|
Most research articles you find will follow a standard format, sometimes abbreviated IMRAD, for Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion.
Use a search engine like Google to find current information on the web that's too new to be in scholarly articles or books.
Many government and organizational reports are also available on the web. If you need to learn about environmental projects conducted by federal, state or local governments, or on campuses, you can use Google to help find them. Tools and tips for searching for reports are in the right column of this page.
When you type more than one word into a database or search engine, AND connects them by default. AND limits your search, returning only those results that have both of the terms, e.g.,
diversity AND wetlands
OR expands your search, returning results that include either the first term, the second term, or both. You can use OR to connect synonyms or alternate terms, e.g.,
oak OR quercus
NOT limits your search by excluding particular terms. If you find that a search returns a lot of irrelevant results, you can use NOT to exclude a term found in the irrelevant articles, e.g.,
Most search tools ignore the words and, or, and not, because they're present in every English-language article or website. To let the research database or search engine know that you're giving it a command and not a word it should ignore, put boolean operators in all caps: AND, OR, NOT.
Boolean searching has an order of operations, like math. Unlike math, the order varies from one research database to another, and you won't always know what the order of operations is. Fortunately, like math, parentheses come first. You can group your terms using parentheses so that the database or search engine understands you.
weed* OR “invasive species” AND wetlands
Looks for “invasive species” AND wetlands first, then adds anything that includes weeds.
This will return a lot of irrelevant results about weeds that have nothing to do with wetlands.
(weed* OR “invasive species”) AND wetlands
Looks for items that include either weeds or invasive species or both, then limits to those that also include wetlands.
This keeps you from having to sort through many irrelevant results.
Most research databases have an advanced search screen that gives you more than one search box. The terms within each search box are grouped together as if they were in parentheses, and you can connect the search boxes with boolean operators.
This can be easier to work with than entering all of your terms in a single box.
Customize Google Scholar to connect with OSU's holdings.