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Scientific Literature and Research at IUP

Guiding Principles

When faced with the prospect of searching for information for a paper, annotated bibliography, or other assignment, everyone eventually develops a strategy that works for them. However, there are a few guiding principles that successful information searches often share.

Start With the Brainstorm

When we have a topic to research, we - being humans - understand what we're looking for and the concepts we hope to learn about. Computers, on the other hand, are regrettably dumb, and don't understand things as well as we do. What we have to do is turn the concepts in our head into keywords or key phrases to feed into a search. 

This is the brainstorming step: identifying the words and phrases that you can put into a search field to (hopefully!) bring back usable results. It's pretty easy:

  1. Write down your research question or topic - for example, heart attack rates in women in impoverished areas
  2. Identify the keywords in that question or topic - those are your starting points!
  3. Think about possible synonyms for those keywords you just wrote down -  such as myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest
  4. Think about possibly related topics, such as cardiovascular healthpreventive care, or low-income patients

Once you have a set of terms, concepts, and phrases, you're ready to roll. 

Move from General to Specific

The next principle is to always proceed from general to specific. If you start with too many specifics - e.g., heart attack rates in left-handed women between 25 and 30 who live in rural towns with fewer than 5,000 residents - you will probably receive few, or no, results. This is discouraging, and can lead you to thinking "there's nothing out there on this!"

In other words, if you immediately start with a very narrow search, you're gonna have a bad time.

If you start with a much broader concept - heart attack rates in women - you'll have a larger pool of initial results to work with. Once you have that pool, you can use more specific keywords, filtering options (usually found on the left- or right-hand side of every database result list!), and other methods to narrow in on your desired information. 

Remember: always proceed from general to specific

Use What You Find

Scientific progress is often described as "standing on the shoulders of giants" - a new discovery is built on the record of older discoveries. Take advantage of that!

Sometimes a single resource - an article or a book, for instance - can be a treasure trove of information to help your research. When you find an article that is everything you hoped for, don't just file it away for your project. Instead, take some time to look at the references used by that article. You will almost always find other articles or books that will be key for your work, and you can search for those articles within our library as well. 

Remember Where You've Been

It's often helpful to take notes about your search process - what you searched for, what databases or tools you used, how you changed your search terms, and so forth. Research notes can help you track down an article you saw but didn't have time to fully investigate, or can let you know which search terms and concepts were really effective, and which were dead ends.