Choosing Your Research Tools
The number of information sources available to students and researchers has increased substantially over the last number of years. Below we outline some of the most common sources for information for research papers. Most students will use information from one (or more) of the following sources:
Books: Books will provide you with a good general overview of a topic, but are generally not as up to date as the other sources.
Journal articles: Articles from scholarly journals and magazines tend to deal with more specific topics than books, and are usually more up to date.
Web pages: All kinds of information can be found on the Internet, including text, video, audio, statistics, and maps. The currency and quality of the information varies greatly. Some scholarly information can be found on the web using specialized scholarly search engines.
There are different tools available to locate information in these sources, depending on which type of source you wish to use (and you may very well choose to use all three):
- To locate books on a topic, you will use a library catalogue.
- To locate journal articles, you will need to use a journal database.
- To locate web pages, you will need to use a search engine.
You should be able to apply your search strategy to any of these 3 tools. Now, let's take a little closer look at each of these tools:
A. The Library Catalogue
A library catalogue, like AU Library's AUCAT, is the tool that you will use to find books, videos and other physical resources on your topic. AUCAT also allows you to search for e-books which you can read on your computer screen. You can also renew or request items directly from the catalogue. To find out more view the AUCAT tutorial.
In addition to searching AUCAT, you can try searching the library catalogues of other libraries in your local area. AU Library has entered into reciprocal borrowing agreements with some libraries so that members of the AU community (faculty, staff and students) can borrow materials from them. For more information, please see the information regarding the TAL Card program (available only to residents of Alberta) and the COPPUL Card program, which includes universities across Canada. The AU Library website has a list of some library catalogues that you can connect to via the Internet. If your local library is not on the list, please inquire with them about how to get access to their catalogue.
B. Journal Databases
To locate journal articles on your topic, you will need to search a journal database. A journal database is essentially a searchable index of the articles available in a particular journal or in a group of journals. Where traditionally journal indexes were in print and required physical access to a library, all of AU Library's databases are available to you remotely over the Internet. Most online journal databases allow you to:
- Search by keyword, subject, author, title and within specific journals
- Allow you to limit your search to specific publication types, such as scholarly or peer reviewed articles, and by date
- Print or email articles
- Save persistent links to articles so that you can refer to them again by following the link
Some databases will only provide you with citations to journal articles. A citation provides you with all the information you will need to locate a particular article in a journal. The citation usually tells you:
- the title of the article
- who wrote the article
- the name of the magazine or journal the article can be found in
- the specific volume (and sometimes issue number) of the magazine or journal that contains your article
- and the page(s) that the article can be found on.
You will need this information to cite the article in your paper, and if the database does not provide full text, this information will help you locate the article in a local library or to request it from AU Library.
Many journal databases will supply an abstract along with the citation. An abstract is a short description of the content of a journal article (usually only a paragraph or two). This can be helpful in determining whether the article meets your requirements or not.
As noted above, many journal databases provide the entire full-text of the article online.
If you are unable to find full text of a specific article, copy and paste the citation into an email and send it to AU Library and ask us to locate the article for you. If the article cannot be found in the collection, we will notify you, and ask if you would like to place a request through the interlibrary loan office.
C. Search Engines
You might be able to locate some information on your topic on the Internet. A search engine is essentially an index to a large number of web pages on the Internet.
The information that you find on the Internet is generally very different from the information you will find in books or journals. The main differences are:
- Anyone can put information on the Internet, which means that it can be inaccurate or wrong.
- Information on the Internet can be changed, updated, or removed instantly, whereas the process of revising a journal article or book is a much longer process (sometimes lasting years). This can be both a curse and a blessing - you can have access to the most up to date information but you can also lose the information on a Web page in the blink of an eye.
The search strategy you have developed will likely work in an Internet search engine, just as it would in a database or library catalogue. However, you should be aware that search engines have different ways of putting search strategies together. For example, while using AND in Google is acceptable, it is not necessary because Google automatically inserts AND in between terms. E.g. if you searched Google for:
treating autism children effective
it would read:
treating and autism and children and effective
If you had decided to search for information on autistic children you would need to enter this phrase in quotation marks because otherwise Google will treat these two words seperately and insert AND in between them.To use OR in a Google search, be sure to capitalize the OR, so that Google does not ignore it.
Google Scholar allows you to search for scholarly materials on the Internet. The materials that it indexes include journal articles found in databases, theses, books and court opinions, etc. It is possible to set your preferences in Google Scholar so that you can see whether your library has access to the document. To set your preferences, follow the instructions found here.
Remember to be cautious when using information found on the Internet. Make sure you take the proper steps to evaluate the information that you find. For some tips on evaluating Internet information, try using AU Library's Evaluating Web Information guide.
Journal Databaes at AU Library
AU Library subscribes to a substantial number of journal databases, which cover a wide variety of subject areas. A list of the journal databases can be found on the AU Library Website. Any valid AU student or staff member can search these databases via the Internet. There are also a number of freely available databases listed in our database list. These are open to anyone, not just members of the AU community