Most databases allow for users to refine search results by a variety of criteria, to reduce the number of results that display. Broad keywords, such as climate change, yield a large number of results, so limiting the results to scholarly sources from the past five years in full text may make the list more manageable. Specific keyword searching, such as climate change AND Kenya will return fewer results, so you may not need to rely on refining the search to get through all the results.
Once you've constructed your search through keywords, you can narrow your results by using the tools on the sidebar, combining them to further narrow the search results. Sometimes, these are referred to as "filters" or "limiters."
Below we've identified several limiters that are common across databases. You may choose to use all of them to narrow your results; you may not need to use any. But these options are available, should you find yourself overwhelmed with the number and variety of results.
Different types of sources contain different kinds of information. Considering the source type when searching for information and refining results will help you gain the best kinds of materials for your project based on the projected audience, purpose, and other needs.
In most databases, you'll encounter the following source types, often known by these names:
Scholarly literature is written for an academic audience, in academic journals and peer-reviewed articles, and popular literature is written for mass appeal, in trade publications, magazines, and newspapers.
Neither scholarly nor popular literature is better than the other, but you will use them differently in writing a paper. You'll have to examine each source and evaluate how it's relevant to your project.
When you're deciding whether to use scholarly, popular, or other types of literature, you'll come across the descriptor "peer-reviewed." This means that several scholars have examined the article to ensure its academic quality and value for the field. Watch the video in the tab (to the right) for more information about peer review.
Academic, or scholarly, journals contain a mixture of Original research articles, Review articles, and Book reviews. All three of these are important parts of academic conversations.
Original research usually follows the process of peer-review. These articles discuss new research, new ways of looking at an idea, or new solutions to an old problem. In scientific fields, engineering, and psychology, original research usually contains the word "study" in the first or second sentence of the abstract.
Review articles take a long look at a large area of research, or a specific field of study. A climate scientist may write about the ways climatologists have examined tree cores. A literary scholar may examine the ways other scholars have looked at gender in Julius Caesar. An historian may write of the ways American historians have studied Darwin. A psychologist may write about how other psychologists have studied adolescent cyberbullying. Review articles are written by experts in the field, about the field, and for other researchers to examine their place in the field.
Book reviews are written by scholars as a way to discuss a book's value for the field. Often, these reviews widely vary, depending on the scope of the journal. It is important to note that these reviews are not simply whether a book is good or not; they address the value of the book for scholars in the field covered by the journal.
Databases offer a large number of resources in full text, meaning that the article or book is available in its entirety (usually in .html or .pdf). If the resource is not available in full text, the database will provide a citation for the item, and maybe its abstract. This should be enough to help you decide whether you need to find the full text or move on to another resource.
If you can't find the full text for a resource, you can:
Subject headings are a "controlled vocabulary," an authoritative list of terms assigned by the database to organize resources.
The most common subject headings are created and maintained by the Library of Congress (Library of Congress Subject Headings). Most databases use LCSH to organize resources. Medical and health sciences literature is organized using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). Databases may also have their own controlled vocabulary, or thesaurus, of terms.
To search by subject headings:
Other limiters can help you further narrow your search results:
Geography shows research about a particular region.
Language refers to the written language of the article.
Publication lists the journals, magazines, and newspapers where you can find the article.
Publisher identifies the providers of the information.