Online Research Tips


UoPhx Journal
Online Research Tips

After reading about my classmates' frustrations with doing research in the online databases, I realized (again) that library training is immensely valuable to a researcher. Even more so, perhaps, when the researcher is isolated from ordinary library use. Emailing someone is just not the same as walking up to the reference desk, and it doesn't really help when you are trying to find an article for that day's discussion.

I remember thinking in my first subject specific library resources class, "I wish I'd known this my first time in grad school!" There was just so much more out there than I had any idea. I want to help my fellow online classmates get a handle on their research. Most of us aren't taught how to do research at all. Trying to do it online is even more difficult.

So, I resolved to include some of the tricks I've learned as a librarian and a student here in my online portfolio. I'll probably organize them as a go on, but for now they are just in the order they occurred to me. Most of these will be specific to UoPhx databases, but the concepts will be true for most online sources.

I've moved the web links to a new Links page, which is arranged by course.

bulletIf you're just trying to find an article on a given topic, try lots of search words. That will probably narrow the search down so that you don't have to wade through 100's of articles to find one that pertains to academic assessment rather than psychological diagnosis. This works best when you aren't too picky about the article you find.
bulletTry lots of alternative words--not necessarily in the same search. College, university, higher education--they all help narrow the search down to post-secondary (there's another) education.
bulletFind a couple of good journals in full-text and stick with them. By putting Assessment into the Magazine field of the EBSCO search, I turned up a couple of good assessment and evaluation journals that had lots of full text articles available.
bulletCross referencing between databases. UoPhx subscribes to ERIC, the basic education non-full-text database produced by the federal government. Because they subscribe to it via EBSCO, any articles available in one of the full-text databases will be linked from within ERIC. The ERIC searching is much more precise, so it's easier to narrow down to a topic-specific set of results. In most cases I found at least one full text article.
bulletUsing a thesaurus. ERIC has a thesaurus of subject terms used to describe the articles. The EBSCO interface is very easy to use. Click on Thesaurus in the menu bar above the search box. Type a keyword and select the Relevancy Ranking. Related terms used by ERIC will be the result. Select whatever terms you want. Checking the Major Concept box will only search for articles that have that topic as an important theme, rather than as a minor mention. You can also search all topics under that term in the hierarchy by checking the Explode box.
(The major full-text database Academic Search Premier does have subject terms, but they are not applied as rigorously. ASP also covers a very wide range of topics, which makes it more likely that a term will be used in more than one way, like assessment as in academic testing or as in psychological diagnosis. The main search in UoPhx's library is also a multi-database search of the major full-text databases. You can only do subject term searching as keyword searching in a multi-database search. This leaves you open to getting every article that uses the word somewhere in the text--a much wider possible pool.)
bulletERIC documents are something available online, but you have to check the full record, not the results list, to find out. Don't be discouraged if the exact link doesn't work. Try the main page of the web site and do a search for the author and/or title of the document.
bulletDon't forget Interlibrary Loan, but remember it early on in the course. ILL takes several days to a week or more, depending on what you're trying to get. So it's best when you have time. And always ask for more than you need, something might not come in.