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Research Help

How to …

find books in the library?

Search@NDNU: You can search for books owned by the Gellert Library using our new Search@NDNU search box from the library homepage.

Searching the catalog:

  • Enter the title, or author’s name or a subject into the search box.  

  • On the search results page, click on Availability to see if the Gellert Library owns the book and if it is available.

Locating the book in the library:

  • Check the Status of the item in the record to see if the book is available for check-out.

  • Jot down the Call Number, which tells you the location of your book in the library, and then head for the shelves!

eBooks: The library also subscribes to more than 200,000 ebooks. You can find ebooks by going to ebrary.

choose a topic?

Choosing an interesting research topic is your first challenge. While there are no set rules, the following tips may help:

  • Review the guidelines on topic selection outlined in your assignment.

  • Refer to lecture notes and required texts to refresh your knowledge of the course and assignment.

  • Think about related ideas and read background information first. This will help you identify the topic of your interest as well limit the scope of the topic.

  • Good research papers begins with a few questions. Think about what the major questions are for this topic. Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?

  • Identify the information resources that relate directly to your topic.

  • While doing your research, always keep in mind the required length of the paper and the amount of time you have to complete it.

find scholarly articles?

While we recommend starting your search using Search@NDNU from the library’s website that searches all of our library’s collection, you may need to consult Article Databases for in-depth and comprehensive research.

Article databases can be accessed from Databases by Subject page. In addition to several general databases that cover many topics, the library’s Subject Guides include suggestions for recommended databases according to specific subject areas.

Below are a few tips that will help you identify and locate scholarly articles for your research assignments.

What are “Scholarly Articles”?
Scholarly articles report on the original research or thought of the authors. An exception is the review article, which evaluates published research on a particular topic.

In both cases, authors are experts in their field, usually with advanced degrees and affiliations to universities, corporations, or institutes. The article itself must pass a review process in which qualified experts comment anonymously (hence the terms “peer reviewed” or “refereed”).

Article Structure
Scholarly articles are often highly structured and divided into sections. Esp. science and social sciences articles include abstract, introduction, literature review, materials and methodology, results and conclusions.

Numerous Citations
Scholarly articles will have footnotes or in-text citations as well as lists of references at the end of the article.

Complex Content
Scholarly articles are written for researchers in the author’s field, so they may contain specialized vocabulary. They may also be quite long: a 30-page article is not uncommon.

distinguish between scholarly and popular articles?

Peer-reviewed/scholarly journals publish original research and criticism with the purpose of contributing to the academic research in that field. Popular magazines and newspapers will often report on current events and happenings with the purpose of entertaining and informing the public. More details below:

AuthorUsually a journalist or a freelance expert in the field, affiliated with a university or research institution – usually multiple authors
Length of Articleanywhere from half a page to 2 – 3 pageslonger with more detailed content – anywhere from 4 – 20 pages
Intended Audiencethe general publicother researchers, students, or experts in the field
Vocabularywritten at a level that can be understood by the general publicspecialized terminology that requires a background in the discipline to understand the text
Imagesphotographs or information graphics (infographics)Charts, graphs, or tables that show the use of data from experiments or studies

distinguish between primary and secondary sources?

Primary sources are original, first-hand records of factual investigation, artistic creation, or personal experience. Reports of scientific experiments, artistic works such as movies, paintings, and novels, visual and personal records such as photographs, eyewitness reports, letters, memoirs, and legal documents are examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are commentaries, overviews or summaries of the content found in primary sources. Interpretation and appreciation of literature, summary or commentary on research, historical and biographical writings based on factual events and primary sources are examples of secondary sources.

Where They Are Found

  • The easiest way to find a scholarly article on a particular topic is to use one of our online databases. Our Databases by Subject guide will help you identify databases relevant to your research.

  • As you find articles for your research, you can email them to yourself either individually or in a folder. Many of our databases will format the citation of your article in the format you are using for your paper, such as APA or MLA.

  • You can access the databases from the Gellert Library website whether on or off campus. If an electronic full text version of the article is unavailable, please contact the library at 650-508-3444 or

do advanced searching?

Boolean operators

Using Boolean operators in your search will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from the thousands of records in a database. Boolean operators allow you to focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms, as well as connect various pieces of information.

Use AND to narrow your search result by telling the database that all search terms must be present in the resulting records. For example, cloning AND humans AND ethics

venn diagram

The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram above represents the result set for this search. It is a small set of resources, wherein all three specific topics are covered within each of the resources presented.

Use OR to broaden your search by telling the database that any of your search terms can be present in the resulting records. Using OR is an effective way to search for concepts referred to by different words or phrases. For example, cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

venn diagram

All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a large set that includes resources covering each of three topics not necessarily within the same resource.

Use NOT to narrow your search telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms. For example, cloning NOT sheep


The blue circle will represent the result set for this search, excluding all resources that discuss sheep.

Databases interpret phrases in search terms differently. Some assume that words typed next to each other should be searched as phrases. Others automatically put a Boolean AND between your search terms, requiring that all the words be present, but not necessarily adjacent to each other. These searches can retrieve very different results.

Using parentheses or quotes around search words is a common way to do phrase searching, but not all databases or search engines use them. For example: search for “genetic engineering” will yield only those results where the two words genetic and engineering appear right next to each other.

Proximity operators also help narrow your search by specifying how closely words in the search terms should appear.

w# = with

  • With specifies that words appear in the order you type them in.

  • Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between. If no number is given, then it specifies an exact phrase.

  • Examples:

  • genetic w engineering (searches the phrase genetic engineering)

  • Hillary w2 Clinton (retrieves Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, etc.)

n# = near

  • Near specifies that the words may appear in any order.

  • Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between.

  • Examples:

  • cloning n3 human (retrieves cloning of humans, human cloning etc.)

broaden your search?

Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end. Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #. The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

For examples, child* will include search results for child, child’s, children, childhood.

evaluate websites?

The Web is a valuable information source, but for the purposes of academic research, you must select reliable websites. Here are a few questions that can help you determine the reliability of a website and its appropriateness for your research.

  • What is the domain of the website?

Typically, content on domains with “.edu,” “.org” or “.gov” are from more legitimate sources than content from “.com.”

  • What is the purpose of the information?

Make sure the website doesn’t promote a product or an ideology or present an organization bias.

  • Who is the author, publisher, or source? Are they an authority on the subject?

Ask yourself not only “who wrote this?” but “why should I care what s/he writes?” Look for the author’s identity and also any information about their educational background, professional credentials, etc. This information can often be found under an “About Us” link.

  • Does the information relate to your topic? (relevance)

Make sure that the web pages are relevant to your research and contain information that is thorough and substantially covers your subject matter.

  • How current is the information?

Look for the date of publication to ensure that information presented is up-to-date, esp. if currency of information is crucial to your research/academic field.

  • How accurate/truthful is the content?

Compare the web page to related sources, electronic or print, for assistance in determining its accuracy. Look for factual information (historical or statistical), research/fieldwork observations, as well as citations/footnotes and list of references/bibliography.

avoid plagiarism and cite successfully?

To avoid plagiarism, you must give credit by citing sources whenever you use

  • another person’s idea, opinion, or theory;

  • any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings—any pieces of information—that are not common knowledge;

  • quotations of another person’s actual spoken or written words; or

  • paraphrase of another person’s spoken or written words.

You don’t need to cite sources when the information you write about are common facts, your own original research, and/or your own opinions and evaluations.

Many standard styles exist for how to cite a document. These vary in relation to the needs of different communities of scholars. Those most commonly used at the undergraduate level are APA and MLA. Handbooks and guides on use these citation styles are available at the library. Here are quick guides to APA Citation Style and  MLA Citation Style.

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