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A Do-It-Yourself guide for research

Types of sources


  • Dictionaries help you communicate correctly and clearly by providing:

    • Definitions, and information about pronunciation, usage, abbreviations, and etymology (history of a word).

    • Parts of speech.

    • Details about how people use words or terms in specific fields, in specialized dictionaries.

  • For alternative ways to say something, look for synonyms (words with similar meanings) in a thesaurus.

  • Encyclopedias provide you with:

    • Articles about a word, person, place, event, or concept.

    • Objective (fact-based) articles written by experts in their field of study.

    • General or subject-specific information.

  • Access statistical data on sports, astronomical bodies, geography, and more using an almanac.

  • Information about places—such as roads, climate, and topography—is found in an atlas. Other topics include demographic, political, and historical background, as well as health care, religion, the environment, agriculture, and language.

  • Consult nonfiction books. (Remember, objective means based on fact, not opinion. Not all of these nonfiction books are objective.)

    • Research people using biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs.

    • Learn a new skill with tips from guides and handbooks.

    • Get exposed to different perspectives on a topic through a collection of essays.

    • Learn about a specific subject by consulting a monograph.

  • Magazines are sources for current events, pop culture, business trends, and entertainment.

    • Up-to-date information, though it may not be the most authoritative.

    • Articles typically are brief, with little historical context.

    • Consider the author’s tone as well as the article’s sources.

Choosing a database 


  • Use your library to access databases for more scholarly results and better searches than those available on the open web.

  • Follow these strategies:

    • Know what kind of information you need.

    • Use general reference databases for background information on your topic.

    • Check out the library’s research guides for resources relevant to your subject, class, or topic. You can find these under Subject Guides or Research by Subject.

    • Determine if a database is a good fit for your research topic by reading the database description on the library website. 

    • Use a bibliographic database to start a list of books and articles related to your topic. Ask a librarian for help finding the full text of the item.

    • Utilize the database search function to find words and phrases located anywhere in the book or article. Depending on the database, you also can search for images, music, videos, and webcasts.

Ask your librarian for help choosing an appropriate database for your area of study.

When using the Library's databases, it is important to select the correct ones for your research needs.  For the most part, the databases have specialties divided up according to subject(s) such as Science or Nursing/Medicine, or even simply All Subjects. Some databases, like CQ Researcher, are not just collections of articles but contain original research and reporting on various subjects.

Here are some hints to help you find the right database for you:

  • On the A-Z page, you can see a list of the databases in a given subject by using the drop down menus.
  • Using the "Best Bets" listed database is usually a safe course.
  • Once you are searching within a particular database, pay attention to the search screens and limiters.  You can usually limit your search by date, article types (newspaper, journal, etc...). This can help narrow your search.
  • Try a variety of keywords in your search.   

UHMC A - Z list of databases 

Developing keywords / search terms

Once you have your thesis, but before you can start researching, you need to think about the keywords and concepts of your thesis question.

  • What are the 2 or 3 main concepts of your research question?
  • Once you have your concepts, try to think of other terms that are similar to your concepts.
    • Sometimes these words will have similar meanings or they will be more broad or narrow ways to think of the subject.


Make the library databases work for you

 In library language, a database is a searchable collection of information.  Most times, this information comes from magazines, journal articles or other published materials.  

The Library organizes its databases using an A to Z format by the database title.  However, you can limit/filter the databases by subject area or type of articles.



Help searching the "open web"


Most people use Google for their open or free web searches.  There is a lot of information out there but remember to put all your resources through the CRAAP Test to see if they are usable.

Here are some hints to help you with searching the open web:

  • Use different combinations of keywords.
  • Don't be afraid to look at results on page 2 or even page 3 <gasp!>.
  • You should never have to pay for an article from Google.  Please contact a librarian if you are being charged for something.  We can usually get it to you for free!
  • Use Google Scholar if you want to try another metho to find scholarly/academic Literature.


-- When was the information created?

-- Does your topic require updated information? 


-- Does the information relate to your paper/project?

-- Is it written at an appropriate level? (not too advanced or elementary)


-- Is the author qualified to write on this subject?

-- Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?


-- Where does the information come from?

-- Is the information supported by legitimate sources?


-- Why was the site created (advertising, share knowledge, entertainment)?

-- Do the authors make their intentions clear?

Google Scholar is linked to the UHMC Library. From this freely accessible, scholarly web search engine, go to Settings > Library Links to sync your Google Scholar page to the full text articles available at your library. Articles indicated with "Get Article" are available through UHMC Library.


For more information, consult the UHMC Library Guide to Google Scholar.