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ENC 1101 / 2300: Search for/Evaluate Resources

The argumentative, or, persuasive essay.

How? - Search Tips

Remember to think about alternate search terms.

  • CELL phone vs. MOBILE phone
  • debate / argument
  • cigarettes, tobacco, smoking
  • legislation, law, legal
  • "genetically altered food" vs. "food safety"

Identify Subject Terms for your database and search by that field.

  • drug legalization -- United States
  • Marijuana -- Law and legislation -- United States

Use "quotations" to search a multiple word phrase

  • "teacher salary"
  • "drug testing"
  • "academic achievement"
  • "standardized test"
  • "public spaces"
  • "sex discrimination"

Use wildcard '*' for truncation

  • standardized test* covers tests, testing
  • censor* includes censor, censors, censorship


Know what you’re looking for:

• What specific question are you trying to answer?

• What would a really excellent article about your topic look like? 


 Identify the best sources for the kind of information you need:

• Do you need journal articles, newspapers, or other kinds of documents?  Do you need peer-reviewed articles?

• Which database is best for this subject and type of information?


 Limit your search in ways appropriate to your needs

• Limit your search to peer-reviewed articles, if required by your instructor

• DON'T limit to full-text within any particular database, since the SFX feature will often find the full-text elsewhere.


  Find the right vocabulary for your topic:

 • Use the tools the database provides to find the right vocabulary for your topic. These might include:

       - 'narrowing' suggestions or ‘suggested topics’ 

       - lists of authorized ‘subject terms’ or topics (sometimes called a thesaurus)

 • Go to the ‘complete’ record of a promising article to see what subject terms have been assigned to it.


Combine search terms to narrow and focus your results (see example in left column):

 • Use AND to narrow your search to a particular aspect of a subject

 • Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms

 • Combine a set of different searches to narrow your search (some databases have good ‘search history’ capabilities to make this possible)


  Search in the database fields that will give you the most targeted results

Default search – a ‘keyword’ search.  Depending on the database, it might search the fulltext of articles, or just the abstract and title fields.  It's the best beginning,  but often gives many irrelevant results.

Subject field - searches only  the ‘authorized’ subject terms assigned by indexers. USE THIS FIELD ONLY ONCE YOU KNOW THE CORRECT SUBJECT TERMS

Title field - searches only the title of articles. This can be a very effective way of limiting to relevant articles, especially when vocabulary in the field is changing


Currency : the timeliness of the information

  • If relevant, when was the information gathered?
  • When was it posted?
  • When was it last revised?
  • Are links functional and up-to-date?
  • Is there evidence of newly added information or links?

Relevance : the uniqueness of the content and its importance for your needs.

  • What is the depth and breadth of the information presented?
  • Is the information unique?
  • Is it available elsewhere, in print or electronic format?
  • Could you find the same or better information in another source?
  • Who is the intended audience? Is this easily determined?
  • Does the site provide the information you need? Your overall assessment is important. Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority : the source of the information

  • Who is the author/creator/sponsor?
  • Are author's credentials listed?
  • Is the author a teacher or student of the topic? Does the author have a reputation?
  • Is there contact information, such as an e-mail address? Has the author published works in traditional formats?
  • Is the author affiliated with an organization? Does this organization appear to support or sponsor the page?

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the information

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Are the original sources of information listed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in independent sources or from your own knowledge?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typos?

Purpose : the presence of bias or prejudice

  • Are possible biases clearly stated?
  • Is advertising content vs. informational content easily distinguishable?
  • Are editorials clearly labeled?
  • Is the purpose of the page stated?
  • Is the purpose to: inform? teach? entertain? enlighten? sell? persuade?

Source - Meriam Library at California State University, Chico: