Skip to main content

Tutorials: Finding Articles

Learn how to use library resources, do research and more!

Help Finding Articles

Finding articles is one of the most important skills you'll need for your research. In the space below, you'll find information about how to do that. We introduce basic concepts, like peer-review, databases, and search strategies. Feel free to contact us with any questions.

If you need to find articles in a particular subject (ex. Nursing, English), make sure you check out our Research Guides (click on the "Research Guides" box on the library's homepage to find your subject).

Database Videos

This tutorial explains the differences between searching the web and searching databases--and explains when you'll need to use databases.

This video explains what peer-review is, and why it's so important to academic research.


Search Strategy

So what do you actually put in those search boxes in a database? If you spend a few minutes thinking about what to search, you will save yourself a ton of time.

A good way to begin is to make a list of words that describe the topic you're searching for (keywords)--these words should be single concepts and as precise as possible.

For example, if you are writing about whether yoga helps reduce the stress level of college students, you might start with a list like this:

  • yoga
  • college students
  • stress

You want to choose the terms or concepts that are most important for getting at your topic. Then add synonyms, related concepts, and other areas you might want to investigate to your list--for example:

  • relaxation
  • college-aged
  • anxiety
  • tension
  • university students

Also consider whether you could use broader terms to help with your search--so you could add terms like:

  • exercise
  • stretching
  • young adults

When you are thinking of terms, try to use terms that are:

  1. Single-concept (ex. "yoga" instead of "yoga to decrease stress")
  2. Precise and meaningful (ex. "young adults" instead of "benefits" or "level" or "outcomes"--these words are too ambiguous to add much to your searches.)
  3. Necessary and add to your search (for example, you probably wouldn't need to specify "exercise" if you are just looking for yoga--since yoga is a type of exercise. Also, it's probably not going to help much to use the term "decrease"--not only is it somewhat ambiguous, but it's also the only logical relationship between the two topics of "yoga" and "stress.")

Once you have your list of search terms ready, start searching! To get to one of our databases, click on Databases from the Foley home page. Then choose your database--if you aren't sure, check our "Research Guides" for some great suggestions about which database to use.

For this example, I'll be showing you Academic Search Complete (the second one down in the Databases list). It's a great database to search for articles about any discipline, and it has a lot of useful search features.

Once I have my database open, I can put in my search terms--it's best to use one term per box, and try not to use redundant terms (see the AND/OR/NOT section for how to include synonyms).

This search shows searching Academic Search Complete with the terms "yoga," "college students," and "stress."

Then I hit the search button and take a look at my results.

If you don't get what you're looking for the first time, try modifying your search terms. You can use synonyms or related concepts (ex. anxiety instead of stress) or getting rid of unnecessary words (ex. we may not need the word students, since they're the largest group affiliated with college). Remember, all databases (including Google) are basically big word-matching machines, so you're results are only going to be as good as the words you put in. My modified search might look like this:

This image shows a search in Academic Search Complete using the terms "yoga," college, and "anxiety."

If I'm still not finding what I'm looking for, I can try broadening my search. For example, if there are no articles about yoga and stress, what about exercise and stress? Or yoga and depression? Are there any related or broader categories that might help me with my project? Another modification might look like this:

This picture shows a search in Academic Search Complete for the terms "exercise," "college," and "stress."

Learning to modify your search to get better results will help you find what you're looking for without having to search through a bunch of irrelevant results! So try some variations and see what you can find.


Now you've probably found some relevant results--but are they the types of articles you need? Maybe your professor wants you to use articles from the last ten years, or articles that are peer-reviewed. Or maybe you're getting a ton of articles that aren't even in English. How do you limit your search to the types of articles you're looking for?

Our databases have excellent options for limiting your results and the basic ones are typically listed on the left side of the page.

Here's an example from Academic Search Complete:

Highlights the basic limiters in Academic Search Complete.

The most popular limiters are Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed and the date slider. Checking the Scholarly/Peer-Reviewed box limits your results to articles from journals that use a peer-review process. If you aren't familiar with what this means, watch the "Peer-Review in 3 Minutes" video in the video section--basically, it means that articles are reviewed for quality by a group of experts in the field prior to publication.

You can also move the date slider to choose a particular time period you want articles from--for example, if I only wanted articles from the last five years, I'd slide the left slider over to 2010.

A lot of students use the Full Text limiter, but we don't recommend it. What this limiter does is limits your results to articles that are immediately available from the database you're searching. We have articles from a lot of different sources, so this limiter actually cuts out a lot of articles that we have immediate access to.

If you want to get fancy, you can use the other limiters on the left-hand menu, like limiting by Subject or Language.

This shows the left-hand menu on Academic Search Complete.

If you get crazy with the limiters, you can limit your results too much, and get too few results, but knowing the basics will help you rule out a lot of irrelevant stuff.

Also, the Advanced Search (look right under the search boxes at the top) usually has some more options, but they tend to be specific to each discipline. For example, our medical and psychological databases have options to limit by population (age, gender, etc.) and our business databases allow you to search by ticker symbol. Check out the special options in your subject area!


Using AND:

You might have noticed, in our earlier searches, that each of our words was combined with an AND. On this page, we're going to talk about what that means--and how you can use the operators (AND/OR/NOT) to control what results you get.

This image highlights the ANDs in an Academic Search Complete search.

Basically, these operators control how the database interprets your search terms. When you use AND, the database will only show you articles that contain all of your search terms. If you want to visualize this, it might look something like this (each circle is all the articles with that term, and the orange area is your results):

This is a Venn diagram showing the overlapping area between three terms.

The important thing to remember with AND is that it narrows your results, which means you get fewer (and hopefully more precise!) results. Some people think that, if they don't find what they are looking for, they can just keep adding more words--if you are using AND, this will never get you more results (imagine we just kept adding more circles to the diagram above and cutting the center area smaller).

Using OR:

What if you want to do a search for any of your search terms, rather than all of them? Using OR will give you results that match any of your search terms. For example, let's say I wasn't just interested in yoga, but I wanted all the articles about anything similar--let's say yoga, tai chi, and pilates. Then I might put together a search like this (I just click on the drop-down arrow next to the AND to change the default AND to an OR):

This image shows a search using the OR operator.

This search would get me any article that used any of these search terms. The visual would look something like this:

This image shows a Venn diagram of an OR search.

Notice that this search would retrieve any article that uses any of the terms--so an article about pilates, that never mentioned yoga, would be one of your results. OR searches are most useful for including synonyms or related concepts (ex. stress OR tension OR anxiety). OR broadens your search, meaning it gives you a greater number of results (by expanding what you're looking for). Keep in mind that you can get way too many results using OR--the above search has over 10,000 results!

Using NOT:

The last operator is NOT, which is used to exclude a particular concept. For example, let's say I wanted articles about exercise, but I didn't want to include any articles about yoga. Then I might put together a search like this:

This image shows a NOT search in Academic Search Complete.

Basically, NOT is a way of excluding any articles about a topic. Visually, this search would look something like this:

This image shows a Venn diagram of a NOT search.

Note that every article about yoga is excluded. NOT is most useful when you are doing a search and keep getting irrelevant results. For example, if you are looking for articles about Washington State but keep getting articles about Washington, D.C. ("Washington NOT D.C.") or if you are searching for articles about AIDS (the disease) and keep getting articles about hearing aids ("AIDS NOT hearing").

If you want to be fancy, you can also use more than one operator in the same search, for example:

This search shows an example search using AND and OR

This search uses OR to combine synonyms for the same concept, while using AND to combine each concept group. You might want to experiment with this, but keep in mind that it can quickly get algebraic, because you have to tell the database which concepts to group together. You can make groups with parentheses, so this search could also be written:

(tai chi OR yoga) AND (stress OR tension OR anxiety) AND college students

Experiment and see if you find searching with operators to be helpful!


Using Quotes to Search an Exact Phrase

There are two more search strategies that will help you make your search results more precise, and databases can vary by how these are interpreted, but they are generally very effective. The first strategy is using quotes to make sure your concept is searched as a phrase. For example, if I want articles about the public school system and I keep getting articles with titles like these:

This image shows an article that is irrelevant, but has the words public, school, and systems in the title.

Note that this article has all the relevant words in the title, but they aren't grouped together. I can use quotes (ex. "public school system") to make sure that the database searches it as a complete phrase, rather than individual words. Keep in mind, though, that you will only get results with exactly what you put in quotes.

Using the Asterisk to Create Open-Ended Words (Wildcard Searching)

Like we've talked about, the databases usually try to match exactly what you type in, so sometimes databases don't recognize all the variations of a word that you might be looking for. For example, let's say I'm looking for all the articles about education--I probably wouldn't want just articles that use that exact word, but I might want articles that use the words:

  • Education
  • Educator
  • Educators
  • Educational
  • Educate
  • Educates
  • Educating

You could probably think of even more of them! And while databases typically get some of the word variants in a normal search (ex. singular and plural), you can control exactly which you get by using wildcard searching.

If I use educat* as a search term (note that I am using an asterisk after the letters that all the words have in common), I would include all these words in my search at the same time.

Keep in mind that you can include words unintentionally, too. For example, if I did the search edu*, I would also get articles with the words educe, eduction, etc.

Here's an example of how these search terms would look in a database:

This image shows a search using quotes and a wildcard search.

Give it a try and see if you find this strategy helpful!


Basic Search Steps

Here are some basic search instructions--see the "Search Strategy" box below for more information about each of these steps.

  • Step 1: Decide What You Need

Your search will go a lot faster if you spend a minute thinking about what you need before you start searching. What is your topic? What kinds of articles do you need? How many do you need? When do you need them?

  • Step 2: Choose a Database

You can access our "Databases" list using the tile on the main page. If you don't know which you want, try "Academic Search Complete" (the second one in the Databases list--it has articles about all subject areas) or look at our "Research Guides" (the tile on the main page) to find one specific to your subject.

  • Step 3: Search for Your Topic

Express your topic in two or three simple, specific terms. For example, if you are researching whether yoga helps reduce stress in college students, you'd want to put together a search like the image below.

  • Step 4: Limit Your Results

You can use the database options (usually on the left-hand side) to limit by things like date and article type. If you have trouble finding or using these options, just let us know.

Tip: Try limiting by scholarly/peer-reviewed articles (available in most databases). This limit will help you find the kind of high-quality, academic resources your professors expect you to use.

  • Step 5: Get Your Articles

Many articles have the PDF full-text available right from the database. If you want one that doesn't have this option, click on "Check SFX for full-text options"--that will tell you if we have it through another electronic source, if we have it in paper, or if you have to request it through Interlibrary Loan. Check with us if you can't get something.

  • Step 6: Get Help if You Need It

Foley librarians are available to help you with any questions you have about the research process. You can use the 24/7 chat box on the main page, call the Reference Desk, or visit us in the building.

If there's no "Full Text" for your article...

Go to Periodicals@Foley and search for the journal title. If we have the journal, all available formats (print, electronic, or microform) and issues held by the library will be listed in your search results.

If  Foley Library doesn't have the journal or the issue you need, request the article through ILLiad using the citation you found in the article database.

Connecting Google Scholar to the Foley collection

Would you like to access Google Scholar content through Foley Library? Here is how!

  1. Add this link to your bookmark toolbar**: Reload in Foley Library Proxy Server
  2. Find an article through Google Scholar, or other search method.
  3. Click the link in your bookmark toolbar.
  4. Login through the Proxy server with you Gonzaga credentials, if Foley subscribes to the resource you will now have access to our subscribed content.

**How to add the link to your toolbar:

Firefox: Right click and save Reload in Foley Library Proxy Server to your bookmark toolbar

Chrome and Safari: Click and drag Reload in Foley Library Proxy Server to your bookmark toolbar