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Guide to Online Research: Guide to Online Research

Introduction

Hello and welcome to our Guide to Online Research. This resource covers everything you need to know to find sources for your COMP 1503 research projects.

Below are tips on how to use several Library research tools effectively and efficiently. If you click on the Videos tab above you will find a series of brief videos on these tools.

If you have any questions about researching topics, please ask your professor or the librarians: our contact information is listed under the Contact Information tab above.

EBSCO eBooks

The Library has a collection of electronic books in a database called EBSCO eBooks.

Tips

  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • Do a simple search in this database: it can’t handle too complicated a search.
  • Results are sorted by “Relevance.” The top books should be the most related to the terms you search for.
  • If you want to see the newest books, change “Relevance” to “Date Newest.”
  • Click on the book title to see a brief description of the book.
  • Click on “Cite” to see suggested citations: you have to scroll down to find MLA.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
  • Click on “PDF Full Text” or “EPUB Full Text” to read the book.
  • Check with your professor to see if you have to read the entire book: often professors are fine with you using only a chapter.
  • A book’s index is an alphabetic listing of the ideas, people, and places mentioned in a book and the page numbers that mention them. Looking up a word in an index can be a convenient way to use a book. Indexes are usually in the backs of books.
  • Books and book chapters will often list references at their end.
  • There is a lot of value in reviewing and tracking down these references; for articles, an easy way to do it is to paste into Google Scholar the article title and see if there's a free copy of the article online. See our video tutorial on Google Scholar for more information. To track down books and book chapters follow the instructions under Library Books, below. Books and book chapters are not usually available for free online. Please ask a librarian if you need help getting them.

 

The Gale Virtual Reference Library

The Library has a collection of electronic reference books in a database called the Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Tips

  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • The Subject Guide Search provides guided, controlled results through organized, pre-searched terms. This might be a good search method for you to try.
  • The Topic Finder search isn’t the most useful feature: other search methods are better.
  • You can also just search the database by word.
  • Results are sorted by “Relevance.” The top articles should be the most related to the terms you search for.
  • If you want to see the newest results, change “Relevance” to “Publication Date.”
  • In general, the articles you find in this database should be acceptable, quality sources for your assignments.
  • Sometimes, a professor may say these articles can be used only as background information and not as cited sources. Check with your professor to be sure.
  • This database gives you the original page numbers, which is useful when you’re using MLA citation style.
  • Click on “Cite” to see suggested citations, including MLA.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
     

Library Books

Tips

  • The Library has a database that includes what books we own.
  • Do a simple search in this database: it can’t handle too complicated a search.
  • Put in a word or two about your topic.
  • Results are sorted by “Relevance.” The top books should be the most related to the terms you search for.
  • To see the newest books, change “Relevance” to “Date-newest.”
  • Circulating books--books you can borrow--are located on the top floor.
  • To find the book, use its call number.
  • We use Library of Congress Call Numbers, which organize books into letter groups.
  • The system is very, very linear: it goes in order from books with the call number A 1 to books with the call number Z.
  • If you ever need help finding a book just ask a librarian at the Information Desk on the main floor.
  • Check with your professor to see if you have to read the entire book: often professors are fine with you using only a chapter.
  • A book’s index is an alphabetic listing of the ideas, people, and places mentioned in a book and the page numbers that mention them. Looking up a word in an index can be a convenient way to use a book. Indexes are usually in the backs of books.
  • To borrow a book, bring it to the Circulation Desk by the main entrance. Generally, you are allowed to borrow a book for 30 days.
  • Click on the title of a book to see its record, which usually includes the book’s Table of Contents and a narrative Description of the book.
  • Click on “Citation” to see suggested citations, including MLA.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
  • The Library has a large collection of Reference books shelved near the windows. Reference books must be used in the Library. Reference books are usually books you use briefly to look up facts.
  • Some books have been put aside in the Library by professors. These books are called “Reserve.” To borrow a Reserve item, go to the Information Desk and ask the librarian there for the book.
     

Advice on Search Terms

  • In general, every word you add limits your search.
  • Do not type in a sentence: you will restrict your search too much.
  • Keep searches simple, like you’re talking to an infant and not conversing with an adult.
  • Search using multiple terms, including:
    • Synonyms
      • alternative or green
      • disease or disorder
      • ethnicity or race
      • female or women
      • maternal or mother
      • murder or homicide
      • sex or gender
      • sustainable or sustainability
    • Different forms of the word (the noun form and the verb form):
      • vote or voter or voting
    • From the general idea to specific examples:
      • social media or facebook or tiktok or twitter or reddit
    • Sometimes, it is useful to search words and their opposites/antonyms:
      • employment or unemployment
      • equality or inequality
  • Create a search string connecting terms with the word or.
  • Put separate concepts on separate lines.
  • To find terms:
    • brainstorm
    • use a thesaurus
    • use terms from class
    • use language from articles or your textbook
  • Use different forms of the word, for example, health care or healthcare.
     

Academic Search Complete

Academic Search Complete is a library database with articles from scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Tips

  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • This database has filters for interviews and newspapers, in case you need those types of sources.
  • This database is also set up so it finds only Full Text articles: articles that are always here.
  • When you search consider these three tips:
    • Put separate ideas on separate lines.
    • Use a string of search words: that is, use synonyms joined by the word or.
    • Search in the articles’ abstracts or titles, rather than searching everywhere. (An abstract is a summary of the article.)
  • Results are sorted by “Relevance.” The top articles should be the most related to the terms you search for.
  • If you want to see the newest results, change “Relevance” to “Date Newest.”
  • Click on the article title to see its record.
  • The record may include an Abstract, a summary of the article. Read the abstract quickly to determine if this article is useful to you. The purpose of the Abstract is to help you evaluate the article quickly.
  • Click on “Cite” to see suggested citations: you have to scroll down to find MLA.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
  • The PDF version of the article will be laid out the best, and it will have page numbers, which you need for MLA style.
  • Articles will often list references at their end.
  • There is a lot of value in reviewing and tracking down these references; an easy way to do it is to paste into Google Scholar the article title and see if there's a free copy online. See our video tutorial on Google Scholar for more information.
     

Global Road Warrior

Global Road Warrior is a library database that provides in-depth information on countries and their cultures.

Tips

  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • You can search Global Road Warrior either by clicking on the map or by selecting the country from an alphabetic list.
  • The most important aspect of Global Road Warrior you need to know is that most of the information is hidden under the tabs on the left. You have to explore this menu to access all the database's information.
  • Two important topics include Business Culture and Culture and Society. For example, Business Culture covers such topics as The Business Experience, Decision Making, Meetings, Negotiating, Entertaining, Attire, Businesswomen, and Business Hours, while Culture and Society covers Greetings and Courtesies, Stereotypes, Gift Giving, Superstitions and Folklore, Sports, Time Orientation, Women in Business, and Women in Culture. Other topics could also be important based on what you are researching.
  • Click on “CITE THIS DOCUMENT” at the bottom of the menu to see the “Major Citation Formats,” including MLA. You can select the citation and use Ctrl-C to copy it.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
     

Issues & Controversies

Issues & Controversies is a library database that covers topics on which opinions vary. It has articles from scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Tips

  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • There are two main ways to search Issues & Controversies: you can put in words and either click the magnifying glass or hit the “Enter” key or you can click on “All Issues A to Z” and choose a topic from a predetermined, alphabetic list of topics.
  • Browsing this list of topics is a good idea if you aren’t completely sure what to research and are looking for a topic. Browsing the list should take just a minute or two. Browse the list and click on a topic.
  • Click on “View Issue Overview and Video” to see the complete Overview.
  • This Overview provides background information on your topic and brings you up to speed on important people, events, and legal affairs, all things you should know about and can also research separately.
  • On the main page, you get different subtopics. Click on a subtopic to fully explore that aspect of the main topic.
  • This is very important: across the top of a subtopic page you get a tab menu of more choices. You have to click on the tabs to get all the different information in this database.
  • The Table of Contents on the right links to sections, like Supporters Argue, Opponents Argue, Additional Sources, and Bibliography.
  • The bibliography is the list of sources used to write this article.
  • There is a lot of value in reviewing and tracking down the references listed in bibliographies; an easy way to do that is to paste into Google or Google Scholar the article title and see if there's a free copy of it online.
  • Use Google to search for magazine and newspaper articles, and use Google Scholar to search for articles from scholarly journals. See our video tutorial on Google Scholar for more information.
  • Click on Cite to see suggested citations, including an MLA citation.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
     

Statista

Statista is a library database with analysis, information, and statistics on business and social trends.

Tips

  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • There are different ways to search Statista. You can search directly for different types of information—like statistics, reports, and infographics—or you can search the database for words.
    • Statistics covers all different areas and industries in single-issue graphs with focused, numerical information about one detail of a topic.
    • Reports offer forecasts on trending topics, industry forecasts, consumer preferences, and political and social topics.
    • Infographics present data in an innovative and unique way. You sometimes also get a few paragraphs about the topic and the data being represented.
  • You get different types of results in the left margin when you search: Statistics, Infographics, Topics, and Dossiers, in addition to other types of information. 
    • Topics pull together all available facts and statistics in one comprehensive page: it’s a longer page all about that topic.
    • Dossiers are packets of different statistics, and some results labeled DossierPlus include statistics and narrative paragraphs to explain the data.
  • This database contains full text sources, meaning reports and statistics are always here in full.
  • Sometimes, Statista does not include suggested citations, so you may have to make your own when you use this database. You may want to consult the Online Writing Lab—explained in our video tutorial on MLA Style—for help to cite it.
     

Google

Google is a search engine. Many people use Google and feel they know how to search it well.

Tips

  • There are three search filters you can use in Google to get more focused results.
  • You can limit where your results come from by using site: followed by what’s called a domain name extension, like .edu for institutions of higher education, .gov for government websites, and .org for non-profit groups’ websites. A domain identifies a website’s overall group. 
  • You can also limit your results to a specific website by including its web address in the search. For example, to get results only from the White House website, include site:whitehouse.gov in your search.
  • You can limit the format of your results by using filetype: followed by what’s called a filename extension—the familiar three-letter code that tells you what type of file you’re using, like pdf for Adobe files, doc for Word docs, and ppt for PowerPoint files. For example, include filetype:pdf in your search to get only Adobe Acrobat files.
  • (As a quick aside, never just copy information from a website. If you can find it, so can your professor. Plagiarizing is bad. Instead, cite the source and get credit for citing it.)
  • You can limit how your search terms appear in your results. You can keep words together and in the order you type them by enclosing two or more words in quotes, for example: if you search for “sexual harassment” that phrase must be in your results and must be in that order.
  • All of Google’s special search filters can be combined. A strong search includes different elements, including a quoted phrase, a limit to a domain, and a limit to a file type. For example, the following search finds examples of PDF reports on climate change from US government websites: “climate change” site:gov filetype:pdf.
  • Please be aware that in Google the order of your search terms matters, and you will get different results if you do different searches with the words in different orders.
  • Google suggests you put the most important words first.
  • Also, Google results usually include every term you search for automatically. You can include synonyms in your search to broaden your searching by typing OR in capital letters between synonyms. For example, to search for climate change in a broader way, type: climate change OR global warming.
  • Finally, Google Scholar is an alternative to Google that finds scholarly articles. See our video tutorial on Google Scholar for more information.
     

Evaluating Online Sources

You should always evaluate your sources for their credibility, truthfulness, and usefulness. Do this for print sources—like books—and online sources, like websites and apps.

Here are some commonly accepted criteria for evaluating sources and some questions you should ask when evaluating websites:

  • Accuracy. Accuracy means the site is correct and presents factual information. Ask yourself: Does the site misstate or misrepresent facts? Does the site contain errors? Does the site state something you know is wrong or is not as certain as the site makes out? Is the site sloppy, disorganized, or of low quality? If the site were a restaurant, would you take your grandmother there? Sites that don't acknowledge and correct their mistakes undermine their own credibility.
  • Authority. Authority refers to the site’s creators’ credentials. Ask: Who created this information? What are their affiliations and professional accomplishments? Where do they work? Do they have advanced degrees listed, like Ph.D’s or other degrees? That’s usually a good thing. Is there evidence the authors know what they’re talking about?
  • Bias. Bias means leaning toward a position or opinion. Ask: Does the site hide the fact they have a point of view or a goal? Are they open and up-front about their connections with political or social advocacy? How is the group or site funded? Sites that hide information undermine their own credibility. Don’t trust people who hide things or try to mislead you.
  • Coverage. Coverage refers to the amount of information or content in a site. Ask: How much information is provided? Is there adequate supporting information for any claims they make? Is this just an opinion website representing what someone personally believes?
  • Currency. Currency refers to how old the information is. Ask: When was the site last updated? Can you tell? How new is the information? How important is the date to the type of information or field? For example, if you’re researching a medical or legal topic you want the newest information.

Each criterion is important. Do not use sites that fail your evaluation: that is, they aren’t trustworthy or of good quality.

Use other, better sites instead, that is, use sites that pass your evaluation.

If you ever have questions about the value or integrity of a website, you can always ask your professor or a librarian what they know about a site. We’re always happy to help!

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a part of Google that searches for academic sources from sensible websites.

Tips

  • You search Google Scholar just like you search Google, except don’t use the special filters covered in our video tutorial on Google.
  • Results in the main body of the page are usually articles from publishers' websites. There is often a cost to access the whole article from these sites.
  • The results in the right-most margin are usually free. These results can be from free websites and from library databases.
  • Any time a result in the right-most column says "ViewIt@AlfredState" the article might be available in a library database. Click on "ViewIt@AlfredState" and log in if necessary.
  • If you have to log into a library database, use your Alfred State username and password: do not include the @alfredstate.edu part or it will not work.
  • You may have to click on a database name and a pdf link to see the whole article.
  • Google Scholar concentrates on journal articles, but some results may be books and book chapters. These types of sources are not usually available for free online: sometimes they are, but not often. Please ask a librarian if you need help getting books and book chapters.
  • Search results are normally sorted by relevance, not by date. To find newer articles, try the following options in the left sidebar:
    • click "Since Year" to show only recently published papers, sorted by relevance;
    • click "Sort by date" to show just the new additions, sorted by date.
    • You'll often get better results if you search only recent articles but still sort them by relevance, not by date.
  • Scholarly articles often use articles, books, and book chapters as sources. These sources are usually cited in the paper and listed in the article's References section.
  • It is an effective search technique to look at the references in an article you already have to see if any of those references could be useful.
  • An easy way to do it is to paste into Google Scholar the article title and see if there's a free copy online. This is a very smart research technique.
  • Google Scholar has another feature that shows what newer, different articles cite an article. The articles that cite the current article will almost always be newer. Google Scholar labels this feature "Cited by #." You will see this feature on the bottom line of many search results: click the "Cited by" link to see newer articles that cite the original article. These newer articles might also be of use to you in your research.
  • Google Scholar usually provides suggested citations in five citation styles, including MLA style. Click on the Cite icon to see these suggested citations.
  • You should build your Works Cited page as you research: see our video tutorial on MLA Style for more information.
  • Finally, you can configure Google Scholar to work from home, so it links to the full text of articles from the Library's databases even off campus. Here is how to configure Google Scholar:
  1. Go to Google Scholar
  2. Click on the menu icon in the upper left:  
  3. Click on "Settings"
  4. Click on "Library links"
  5. Type "Alfred State College" in the search box and click on the magnifying glass button
  6. Select the boxes before both "Alfred State College" entries and click on the "Save" button.
  • Now Google Scholar will include results from Library databases. 
  • If an article is not available, please check with a librarian to see if we can find it: librarians might have different resources than you.
     

MLA Style

Modern Language Association style is a way of writing and citing sources in college papers. It is often called MLA or MLA style.

Tips

  • First, a great resource on MLA is the Online Writing Lab (or OWL) from Purdue University.
  • You can get to this website by searching Google for owl mla. This website is well regarded and well used by faculty and students. It covers everything about MLA style.
  • You can do more specific searches—like owl mla quotation or owl mla newspaper—to narrow down Google search results more quickly.
  • Second, here are some quick examples of MLA citations.
  • Inside your paper, your brief citation can be either a narrative citation or a parenthetical citation.
  • How you write is completely up to you: you can use either form, and you can switch between styles in different sentences. Always follow your professors’ requirements.
  • Narrative citations inside your paper include the author’s name in the sentence. Like this: 
    • DeNardis says algorithms play an important role in society (133).
    • Kirtley and Shally-Jensen say privacy is a new concept (21).
  • The page number goes in parentheses before the period.
  • Parenthetical citations inside your paper put the author’s name and page number in parentheses—usually at the end of the sentence—before the period. Like this:
    • Algorithms play an important role in society (DeNardis 133).
    • Privacy is a new concept (Kirtley and Shally-Jensen 21).
  • These brief citations inside your paper lead the reader to the complete citations at the end of the paper on the Works Cited page.
  • The Works Cited page lists all your full citations, in alphabetic order by the first word. Detailed information about all the rules for citing sources is available at the OWL website.
  • If you need more help, you can ask your professor, the staff at the Writing Center, or the librarians. Do not wait until the last minute to ask for help because it always shows.
  • Finally, you should use this procedure when making your Works Cited page. Begin working on it as the first thing you do when writing a paper:
    • Create a Word document and save it. This document will be your paper.
    • On the second or third page, type Works Cited at the top of the page.
    • As you research your topic in the library databases or Google Scholar, copy their suggested citations for the articles and books you might use.
    • Paste the citations into your draft paper starting immediately under the title Works Cited. Paste the citations in as text-only so no formatting is copied over. (Keep Text Only is an option under Paste.)
    • Put back in italics anything that needs to be italicized, like book titles and journal and website titles.
    • Paste the citations in in alphabetic order by the authors' last names as you research. Always verify your citation is correct by using OWL.
    • Once you have finished writing the paper, delete any citations you aren't using.
    • Center the title Works Cited.
    • This next step is very important: select your text from the beginning of Works Cited to the end of the last citation.
    • Click the little arrow in the Paragraph group: 
    • Under Indentation, Special, choose Hanging. Under Spacing, Line spacing, choose Double. Click on the OK button.
    • Save your document: you're all done!