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COMP 100 (Composition): Finin, McManus, Donovan  

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2012 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Library Research: Overview

  • Identify your research topic. Test the topic by searching the Milne Library catalog and a few databases.  You may need to broaden or narrow your topic.  See also Tips and examples for writing thesis statements (From Purdue University).
  • Background information on a topic can often be found in encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference sources. Reference sources provide background information on a topic, clarify definitions, and often include bibliographies at the end of an article. There are encyclopedias in the reference area on the first floor of Milne Library that cover most topics. 
  • Find books. Books often treat a topic more comprehensively than journal articles. Books can be a good place to find an overview of a topic. References to additional articles and books can often be found in a bibliography at the end of a chapter.
  • Find articles.  Since journal articles are often more focused than books, they may provide more specific information than books. References to additional articles and books can often be found in a bibliography at the end of an article. Information in journal articles is usually more current than information in books.
  • Find supplementary materials such as internet sites. Since articles found on the internet have rarely gone through the peer-review process, they must be carefully evaluated. 
  • Organize the findings.
  • Use the information to address the research topic, integrating the information you've found into a reasoned argument or presentation. Make sure you cite your sources in the appropriate format.

    Background Information

    Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks are authoritative sources for background information, important concepts, names, and dates.  Lists of books and articles for further reading are often included.
    • Opposing Viewpoints in Context
      A good place to search for ideas for a research topic. Contains about 2000 viewpoint articles, 1000 topic overviews, 700 court case overviews, and 30 full text periodicals and newspapers. Better for current events than reference books.
    • Reference Universe
      Reference Universe is a tab on the Milne Library home page. It searches the indexes of both print and electronic reference books and provides both the library call number (where the book is located in the library) and the page number where the search term is located. Reference books are not good sources for current topics.

    Where to Find Books

    Use the "Catalog" tab on the Milne Library home page. The library catalog gives the location and availability of  books, videos, compact discs, reserves, and other materials. It does NOT have information about individual journal articles.

    For books in Milne, note the call number for the item and consult Library Floor Plans to determine the location of the item. For online books, follow the link to Electronic Book or Online Item.

    Boolean Search Operators.  Search engines such as Google allow use of "natural language" searches. The library catalog and database searches (as well as some Google searches) may yield better results with Boolean searches.

    To view detailed information about an item, click on the number link on the left of the entry. Availability is shown by numbers to the right  (e. g. 1/0). The first number is the number owned by the library; the last number is how many are checked out.

    Subjects are listed at the bottom of the detailed entry. These subjects will link to other materials on the same exact subject. 

    The BASIC SEARCH allows you to search by fields such as (Words Anywhere, Words in Title, Words in Author, Subject begins with). "Words Anywhere" searches are useful if you do not know the precise subject, title or author.

    Use the * or ? character to find matches that contain portions of words. For example, gun? will retrieve gun, guns, gunners, gunnery, gunning, etc. In another example, ? ology will retrieve anthropology, archaeology, psychology, etc.

    The ADVANCED SEARCH allows limiting by language, collection, document type, year.

    If you do not find the item on the shelf, ask at the Circulation Desk to see if the book has been checked in and is waiting to be shelved. If still not available, complete a “Search” card for the item. A staff member will look for the item and notify you of the results. Items in circulation can be requested on interlibrary loan from another library. 
    Hartwick College  (on the dropdown Find Books/Library Catalogs on the top bar of the library home page)
    SUNY Oneonta students may borrow materials with a valid SUNY ID card.
    • Google Books
      Searches the full-text of a book (MilneCat and WorldCat only search certain fields such as author, title, subjects). Most useful when searching for very narrow topics; otherwise, the results can be overwhelming. The link "Find a Library" will connect you to WorldCat to see if Milne has the book; if not, the book can usually be borrowed via Interlibrary Loan.

    Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journal Articles

    For academic research, it is often important to use peer-reviewed (or refereed) journals rather than popular magazines. Peer-review is the process by which a journal article is evaluated by experts in the field before publication. An example of a peer-reviewed journal is International Journal of Advertising. An example of a popular magazine is Newsweek.

    For examples, see the "Types of Periodicals" tab at the top of this guide.

    Best Databases to Begin a Search for Scholarly Journal Articles

    The databases below are all located on the Milne Library home page under the "Databases" tab.

    • Academic Search Complete
      Full text for about 8,500 periodicals including over 7,300 peer-reviewed journals across most areas of academic study as well as indexing and abstracts for more than 12,500 magazines and journals. Coverage is from 1887 to the present. Provided by SUNYConnect. Youtube

    • CQ Researcher: 1923-present
      Covers the most current and controversial issues of the day with summaries of the issues. Full text. Five simultaneous users. Provided by SUNY-Oneonta.
    • LexisNexis Academic
      Best for current information. Click on the blue "News" box on the left side of the page. Includes the full text of major newspapers including the New York Times and the Guardian (London).
    • Academic OneFile
      Indexes about 13,000 scholarly journals across most academic subject areas from 1980 to the present.
    • Communication & Mass Media Complete
      Covers all aspects of communication and mass media. Offers indexing and abstracts for over 700 journals with full-text for about 450 journals. Coverage is from about 1905 to the present. Provided by SUNY-Oneonta.
    • Google Scholar
      Does not search the same content as Google, but rather, concentrates on scholarly journal articles and books. Full text is available for many articles due to Milne Library subscriptions. If the full-text is not available, most articles can be ordered (free) through Interlibrary Loan.

    Other Databases

    • Browse by Discipline
      Milne Library subscribes to over 100 databases. If you have difficulty finding an article on your topic, try the Browse by Discipline link (located under the "Databases" tab on the Milne Library home page)

    Finding a Copy of a Periodical Article

    Locating the full text of the article in electronic form:

    If there is no full text with the citation for an article in a database, click on 360 Link to Full Text or Find It!. If a full text of the article is available in another database, there will be a link connecting you to that database, where you can locate the article in the appropriate volume, or search for the article by title or author.

    If the article is unavailable electronically, but available in print or microfilm, click on Oneonta Local Collection for exact holdings. Periodicals are located on compact shelving or in microfilm drawers on the floor P.

    Requesting an article on Interlibrary Loan:

    If you find an article from a periodical that is not available at Milne Library in any form after you have linked to "Check Library Catalog", you can request the article through the link Request item on Interlibrary Loan on the record for the article needed (see computer screen that comes up after you click on Find It!). You need to be registered to submit ILL requests. See a librarian for help. You can also request articles through the Interlibrary Loan link on the library website.

    Finding an Article from a Citation:

    If you have the citation for a periodical article, click on the Journals tab on the library website and enter the title of the journal or magazine. The resulting list will indicate which database(s) include the periodical. Follow the databases, then either follow the links to the specific issue of the periodical, or enter the title article in a search box. If the library subscribes to the periodical in print or microform, the holdings will be indicated by linking to Oneonta Local Collection.

    Evaluating Web Sites

    *Anyone* can publish on the Internet. Therefore, it is important to learn to evaluate any information found on the net.

    Five points to consider in the evaluation of a web site: 

    1. AUTHORITY: Who is responsible for creating the page? Does the URL contain .edu (education), .gov (US government), .org (organization) .int (international organization)? Or does the URL contain  .com (commercial) or .biz (business)? Is it a personal site (.name)? (Country codes also may be part of a URL. See Domain name registries around the world.   It is possible to limit a search to a certain country by adding the country domain in Google: Advanced Search.)

    2. CURRENCY: Is there a date indicating when the page was created or updated? Is the information up to date? Are the links current and functional?

    3. COVERAGE: What is the purpose of the site? Does it address your research topic? Is it detailed or broad? What kind of information is it providing: historical? background? statistical? factual? conceptual? a study?

    4. OBJECTIVITY: Is the site expressing a slanted point of view or trying to sway your opinion?

    5. ACCURACY: Can you verify that the information is correct? Are the facts consistent within the page? Do they match up with what you found in print sources? Are sources for the information cited?


    • Wikipedia
      Although Wikipedia can be a good starting point for basic information, it is not necessarily reliable as most articles can be edited by anyone.(Some Wikipedia articles on controversial topics are "locked down" to prevent vandalism.) Make sure you verify the information in Wikipedia with several other sources. Some Wikipedia articles have useful bibliographies.
    • Errors in Wikipedia
      From a conservative viewpoint.
    • Wikipedia Timelapse
      YouTube video.

    Research Help

    Librarians are available to help you in several ways:

    • Visit the Research Help Desk in Milne Library, located on your left after you enter the first floor through the main entrance or through Jazzman's Cafe.
    • Call the Research Help Desk at Milne Library at 436-2722. If the librarian is busy, you can leave a message on voice mail.
    • E-mail a question to a Milne librarian & get a response within 48 hours.
    • Request a research consultation to meet individually with a librarian. 

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