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HON 280-01 - Part 2: Finding Research Studies

Scholarly literature

Science literature is made up of primary and secondary literature, also known as scholarly literature--research reports and analysis--and tertiary literature--news, opinion, and summaries. In most cases, you should use the "most primary" source available for academic work.

Scholarly literature (primary and secondary) is mostly made up of Journal Articles, usually found through online databases from the library and scholarly web search engines like Google Scholar.

It's especially important in academic work to properly cite your references, because all scholarship is built on previous work. 

Creating a Search

Think about 2 key questions when you are creating a search:

  1. What exactly are you looking for?
    • Doing really general searches will usually give you too many results that aren't targeted to what you are looking for.
    • It's also possible to be too specific--so also think of more general ways of describing what you are looking for.
  2. What form would you expect that to be in? 
    • Think about language: more scientific language, like Latin species names or medical terminology, will generally give you more scientific results, like research articles. More casual language, like common names and colloquial phrasing, will give you more results aimed at the layperson.
    • Think about format: reports of research studies are more likely to be in journal articles; books are broader, and might contain history, how a topic intersects with other topics, and speculation about how the topic might affect policy, future research, or be applied to day to day life.

If you've got a broad, general topic ("I need one or two articles on this general topic.") you can jump right to the search boxes and start searching.

If you have a precise topic, you can try the Search Strategy Builder below to create a very precise search. These searches can be copied into library database searches, PubMed, Google Scholar, and most other search engines.

Look up Vocabulary First!

Credo Reference - Dictionaries and Encyclopedia on many subjects

Use general topics to search reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries for definitions and explanatory articles.

Encyclopedias and dictionaries are best used for your own understanding of topics and concepts, not for citing in your research papers. You may also find related search terms.


Article Searches

Search for articles by adding your keyword search terms to the search boxes or a subject specific database. Each database has a different specialty.

Most will default to phrase searching--your search words will be looked for as an exact phrase. To break the phrases up, use the word 'and' between terms ('stomata and leaves'). For more complex searches, try the Search Strategy Builder at the bottom of the page.

Try a search or two in the general searches available below, or go the A-Z database list and choose a Subject.

EBSCO articles

EBSCO provides a lot of full text articles from journals and more. You should already be familiar with Academic Search Premier--but they have a lot more. This search is the about the same as the Articles search box on the library homepage.

Research databases
Limit Your Results


JSTOR is great for historical research--it covers journals back to the 17th century!


Google Scholar

Google Scholar is Google's version of a library database, including articles from publishers, universities, and research repositories. On campus, you'll see links to the 'SCSU Journal Finder' for articles that are probably in our subscription resources. When off campus, check the Google Scholar guide for instructions to set up links for our full text subscriptions.

Google Scholar Search

Search Strategy Builder

Search Strategy Builder


The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you should be able to cut and paste the results into most databases’ search boxes.

  Concept 1 AND Concept 2 AND Concept 3
Name your concepts here.
Use single words or short phrases. Surrounding the phrases with quotation marks will give better results in some databases and search engines, like Google Scholar. Example: "fast plants"
Search terms Search terms Search terms

List alternate terms for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept. For instance, Wisconsin fast plants are of the species Brassica rapa, so you could use "Brassica rapa" as a search term (with quotes), or just Brassica (no quotes needed) to get articles on relatives of the fast plants.

Use single words or short phrases. Surrounding the phrases with quotation marks will give better results in some databases and search engines, like Google Scholar. Example: "fast plants"

If you are having trouble thinking of alternative terms, try looking the concept up in some of our Reference Books.













Click for an example of a filled out search!

Now copy and paste the above Search Statement into a database search box; use one of the search boxes above or choose another Database.

The Search Strategy Builder was developed by the University of Arizona Libraries and is used under a Creative Commons License, via Mandy Swygart-Hobaugh at Georgia State.