Step 2: Locate and Retrieve

Your goal is to locate and retrieve information related to your research question or hypothesis.

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“The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.”
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~ Samuel Johnson
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Library Catalogs

Reference Databases

Search Engines

About this step

In order to accomplish this, you will:

  • Search for information using library catalogs, electronic databases, and general and specific Internet search engines according to your specific assignment requirements.
  • Scan and read and make choices about what to check out, print, email, or save.
  • Decide what sources to accept as valid based on a careful consideration of the information.
  • Record exactly where you find the information.


  • You are on a fact-finding mission, but you will not search primarily for facts.
  • You will look for trends and patterns supported by facts.
  • In order to persuade your audience, one of whom will be your esteemed teacher, you must gather evidence from reliable sources.

When do you have enough sources?

  • When you can make a valid statement supported with evidence–when you can persuade your audience.
  • When you have at least three good reasons that your thesis is true.
  • When you have several facts or experts to support your reasons.
  • When you have met at least the basic requirements set by your instructor.

Where will you look for information?

The sources you need will depend on your subject. It is important to view a variety of media types to gain a broad understanding of your topic.

In these locations, look for the following items:

  • Oviatt Library catalog: books, reference books, sound recordings, videos/dvds, historical documents.
  • Oviatt Library databases: journal, magazine & newspaper articles, transcripts.
  • Internet search engines (such as Google, Librarian's Internet Index, etc.): books, web pages, podcasts, streaming video, historical documents & facts.
  • Other libraries

What search tools will you use to find the best information to answer your question?

  • Internet search engines
  • Article databases
  • Library catalogs

Tips for using search engines:

  • Always check for an "advanced option" in your search engine window. The advanced options make searching easier!
  • Search engines might find millions of pages, but not millions of pages about your topic. The most relevant pages are listed first. Ignore the numbers and pay attention to the relevancy of your results. See PageRank™.

Tips for using databases:

  • Use this trick for database searches: if you enter two words and get zero or very few articles, try typing AND between the words. (Vietnam and draft)
  • Databases have powerful search features. They may allow you to search by subject headings (sometimes called terms) assigned by librarians. Look for an option to do subject searches.
  • Look for an option to reformat the page for printing or emailing. This will save paper and money!

Tips for using Library catalogs:

  • Library catalogs can also search by keywords, author, title, subject or date.
  • When you find a book in another library that you would like to read, request to have the item delivered to you through interlibrary loan.
  • For more help, check out the library catalog tutorials.

Having trouble? Ask a Librarian.

What keywords will you use?

Choose your search terms carefully!

Brainstorm and create lists of words that you can use. Think of broad general terms and narrow specific terms that best describe your topic. Broad terms may lead you to books or Internet pages where you can use indexes or hyperlinks to find specific subjects. Specific terms may lead you immediately to a source focused on your topic, but may not find sources that use slightly different words or spellings. Choosing the best keywords is a process that becomes easier with experience.


  • If at first you do not succeed, try again with related words before you change search engines or databases. (using youth or adolescent instead of teen)
  • More is less. The more words you use, the fewer results you will get.
  • Use broader terms searching library catalogs and databases.
  • Search for specific phrases by enclosing the words in quotation marks. "Do or do not, there is no try"

How will you identify the best sources to use?

You must learn to evaluate your sources. As you read an information source, ask yourself:

WHO?Who wrote this source (or site)? What are their qualifications? Are they an expert on the topic?
WHAT?What is the purpose of the source? Is it intended to entertain, inform or sell? Is the information fact or opinion? Is the information biased?
WHERE?Where does the information in the source come from? Is it documented? How do I know if it is true?
WHEN?When was the information published? Is it current?
WHY?Why should I use this source? Is it the best source of information for my purpose or topic?

Other considerations:

AND, Some technical tricks

  • PageRank™: How many other web pages link to the one you are viewing?
  • Backward links : What kinds of web sites link to one you are viewing?
Schedule | Select | Locate | Read | Essay | Reflect | Start Over | Printer iconPrinter-friendly view

The Oviatt Library Research Project Calculator was adapted from a product developed jointly by MINITEX and Minnesota Library Information Network (MnLINK). It is based on the original Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota Libraries.

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