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Research FAQs: Home

A guide to Frequently Asked Questions about research, designed and created by Clark College Librarians.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Research seems so complicated! Where do I start

A: The guide Explore Topics has some tips for getting started with your research. 

Q: I have an idea for a topic but I'm not sure how to focus it. 

A: Visit the Brainstorm & Explore Topics guide; be sure to take three minutes to watch the video. 

Q: How do I narrow down a search that's too broad?

A: Visit Exploring Topics, especially Tab 6.

Q: I have to write an argumentative paper. How do I find opposite viewpoints from the ones I have? 

A: Find helpful links and tips here: Find Opposing Views (Pros and Cons).

Q: How do I find a book on my topic? 

A: Use the main search box on the library's Home Page. Learn more details at Find Books @ Clark and Beyond.

Q: How can I choose which database to use for my topic? 

A: The guide, Choose Databases, walks you through three options for finding databases, including limiting to subject databases. 

Q: How can I get better results in the databases? 

A: You can get better search results if you understand and use just three basic database search features. Check them out on the Database Search Tips guide. On the same guide there are also tabs for Search Strategies and Advanced Search Tips.

Q: When do I use AND versus OR

A: See Tip #1 on the "Quick Search Tips" tab of Database Search Tips.

Q: Is there a quick guide to help us remember the techniques for searching library database?

A: Yes! Look for the box called "Basic and Advanced Search Features" on Advanced Search Tips.

Q: How can I tell if the article I have is scholarly and peer-reviewed

A: Check out Peer-Reviewed, Scholarly Journals for helpful guidelines. 

Q: How do I know if a source is reliable or credible

A: The guide, Evaluating Information has several tools you can use to evaluate sources, including the A.S.A.P. and A.S.P.E.C.T. tests, and handouts for spotting fake news.

Q: How do I make sure my citations are correct? 

A: You will find lots of citation resources (including "quick guides" and "survival tips" on the Citing Sources Guide. For one-on-one help with citations visit Get Help at Any Time to see options for visiting, calling, or chatting with a librarian.

Q: How do I format my paper and set up a Works Cited page? 

A: For MLA, see the box called: "MS Word 2016 Settings" on MLA Style. For APA, see the video called "Formatting Title Page and Headers in APA" on APA Style.

Q: When researching the author or publisher of an article, how can you tell if they are qualified? Is it simply a matter of whether they have a PhD in the field? Or something of that nature? How can we tell if it is a super credible source?

A: Look for the author's credentials to be writing on that subject. They don't necessarily have to have a PhD, but they should have qualifications that match the subject of the article. In the databases you can click on an author's name to see what else they've written. You can also try Googling the author (along with other specific words) to see if you can find out more about them.

Q: What makes the databases better than Google?  If  we can't find a good article, can we use Google to search the question?

A: Instead of better than, try thinking best tools for the information need. A search engine is designed to give you access to articles in web sites -- information that has a digital-only format. Databases are designed to give you access to articles that are in digitized printed publications. Of course, there is a lot of cross over. But if you specifically want articles in magazines, journals, and newspapers (not web sites), databases are the right tool.

Q: Why can't I use Google Scholar?

A: If you think of Google Scholar and library databases as partners, rather than rivals, it's easier to compare the differences.

Some differences:

  • In Google Scholar you may not have access to as much full text as you have in the library's databases. There is a way to set up Google to link to the library's databases so that you can get the full text (if we have it). It's actually a useful feature; ask a librarian how to set it up the next time you're in the library.
  • In Google Scholar you have access to a few search options (such as date) but library databases have many more advanced search features that, when used properly, can really help you focus and limit your results.
  • In library databases it's easier to limit to the type of source you want, such as newspaper, popular magazine, or scholarly journal.
  • In Google Scholar, if an article is not full text you will likely be linked to a publisher page asking you to pay for the article (usually a lot of money!). In library databases, if the article is not full-text we will link you to a request form so the library can get the article for you, for free (we even pre-fill all the information about the article!).

Q: Why don't they make researching easier so that we don't have to do the truncating and Boolean and everything?

A: Librarians know searching databases can be frustrating. Databases have advanced search features in order for you to have more control over the results and focus exactly on what you want. If you use all the features available, it's actually possible to create a set of results that are nearly 100% close to exactly what you want. Search engines (like Google) also have more sophisticated techniques that most people don't know about or use, but they still do not allow the specificity that you can get with a good database.

Q: How do I think of more words that relate to my topic and be able to do advanced searches with more technical language?

A: Start with the words you know and try to find a few articles. Even if the articles aren't full text, look at the record and abstract to learn more words to add to your keyword list. Articles in subject encyclopedias, like the ones in Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) are also a great way to learn new vocabulary.

Q: May a verb be a good word key?

A: Yes, depending on the verb. A keyword is just any word that you want to see as a main word in the article. If the word shows up in the title or abstract it's likely that article will be more relevant than if the word shows up in the body of the text. Lots of things can be keywords - names of people or places, court case names, events, etc.

Q: For my English 101 final essay, I have multiple credible sources, but I can only use four. How can I pick which resources are the best?

A: Wow, if you have multiple credible sources you are in a good position! To choose the best ones, first make sure they all fit the requirements for the paper. For English 101 final essays, the requirements typically are that articles:

  • are chosen from one of the library's databases;
  • are about the same length and level of language as the class reading; and
  • meet the criteria in the "Evaluate Information A.S.A.P." tutorial

If your article meets all of the above requirements, examine them to see which ones best answer the questions you are asking in your thesis. Since you can only use a maximum of four articles (including the class reading) pick the ones that provide the most information that you can use. Also, try to have some variety. For example, instead of two articles from a newspaper, use one article from a newspaper and one from a magazine.

Q: How do I choose good keywords to search? I have trouble finding a source that I need because I don't know what words to use.

A: There are a couple of ways to build your keyword list:

  • Look up your topic in a subject encyclopedia using Gale Virtual Reference Library (library.clark.edu --> Research --> articles & databases --> Choose Gale Virtual Reference Library from the "popular databases" box on the right side of the page.) Red through several articles to get a background of your topic as well as keywords and ideas.
  • Brainstorm your topic, preferably with someone else. Visit the Brainstorming & Explore Topics tutorial.
  • Do a quick search in Academic Search Premier and ProQuest for your topic, and quickly skim the results for more keywords and ideas. If you can find one good article, use that article to help build your list.

Q: What are immediate red flags to look for to know if a source is credible or not? How do I avoid those red flags?

A: If you haven't had a chance to work through our favorite tutorials on Evaluating Information, take a few minutes to work through both of them. They are short, interactive tutorials that can give you some good tips for the things to look for.

For the red flags, take a look at the Fake News guide, where you'll find useful resources including printable handouts.

Q: How do I properly paraphrase information?

A: Paraphrasing is a skill that takes practice. Visit the Purdue OWL page, Paraphrasing: Write it in Your own Words, for some good tips and guidelines.

Q: If I see website that ends with .gov or .org, should I go immediately to the .gov and disregard the the .org? What I'm asking is if the end of a website is a key indicator of a credible article.

A: Great question! The W5 for W3 tutorial on the Evaluating Sources page has a nice section on top-level domains (.com, .org, .gov, .edu, .net). A top-level domain can be an indicator, but whether or not it's appropriate really depends on two things:

  1. your specific information need
  2. the credibility of the website

Generally we do give .gov sites a "green light" because it's is the job of governments at all levels (federal, state, city, etc) to keep its citizens informed. The problem with .gov sites usually isn't what's there, it's what is not there. Sometimes controversial information (like climate change) will be ordered to be removed. But that's another whole topic!

A .org site might be just as appropriate, again, depending on what your topic is, and depending on whether or not you find the site reliable after evaluating it.

For example, if your topic is related to education, you will get a lot of statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov/) but you might also find useful information from The Education Trust (https://edtrust.org/). Both sites are credible.

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