Skip to Main Content

Library Research E-Textbook - Instructor Version: Basic Research Strategies

Basic Research Strategies: Introduction & Goals


This module will lead you through some in-depth research strategies, but once you master the basics, you'll have the critical tools needed for academic research.

Most people equate the library with books, and sometimes with magazines and journals. In this module we'll focus on these resources. Although searching the web is perhaps easier and definitely more familiar, you can't rely on it alone for your academic research. Most of the books and many of the articles you will need for university projects will be in the Southworth Library Learning Commons collection, which includes thousands of periodicals, over 40,000 print books, over 150,000 e-books, microforms, DVDs, and CDs, and streaming videos. That sounds like a lot doesn't it?  To help find resources (especially articles) associated with your topic, the library has many different databases. The databases might focus on a subject area (psychology) or a type of material (newspapers), or they might cover many subjects and many formats.

In this module, we'll look at how to put these databases to work for you in order to locate books and articles for your research topic.

By the end of this module, you will be able to search for and locate books and articles from Southworth Library Learning Commons related to your research topic.

Finding Books

Finding Books

Books are a great place to start your research. They can help you to define your topic. For instance, if you're interested in the Iraq War, you can find a book on it and then skim the table of contents, the introduction, and the index for ideas and for some more focused information. They can also help you gather background information.

In the library world, a database that searches for books, videos, and periodicals in a specific collection is called a catalog. Our catalog is located within SLEUTH, and is available to users whether they are on or off campus. To access SLEUTH, go to the Library Learning Commons home page, locate and click on the link for SLEUTH, and you will be directed to the catalog's Basic Search screen.  It is here you can enter your keywords. Most books in our library catalog are e-books.  These books are the electronic versions of the exact same book(s) available in print, but the entire content is available to you electronically.  Electronic books are wonderful resources for remote and distance students, as well as those who cannot make it to the physical library building for other reasons!

Remember when you're using books in your research that you don't have to read the whole book. You can skim various sections and just use the introduction or a single chapter if necessary. 

The following video covers the basics of finding books. You'll learn more later in the Advanced Book Searching module. Remember to ask for help if you get stuck! 

Direct link:

Finding Articles in Academic Search Complete

This part of the lesson focuses on searching for articles that have been published in magazines, journals or newspapers. We'll cover this type of search in an article database.

An article database provides information about where and when the article was published, and is searchable by keywords, subjects, and authors. Since articles tend to be much more specific in their coverage of a topic, your search can also be more specific. We'll cover ideas for narrowing your search so that you can find the most relevant articles for your topic. As with most searching, this takes some trial and error. Academic Search Complete is a great database to use when you start your research.  The database covers a wide range of subjects; therefore, Academic Serach Complete will almost always have something for you.

Watch the following video to get a better sense of how you can use Academic Search Complete through Southworth Library's website to help you find articles for your research papers.

Direct link:

Using InterLibrary Loan

Sometimes the Southworth Library does not have access to the full-text of the article you need for your research. Don't fear! Just because you see the following page...

...doesn't mean you will never find the full-text of the article. Just use InterlibraryLoan.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) is a service that obtains articles and books not owned by Southworth Library.  Just click on the kangaroo, and you will be redirected to a page with the information for the article you want.  Simply click "Submit" and in two or three days, the article should be emailed to you as an attachment.

SLOs and IL Standards

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Professional Competence

Information Literacy Standards:

  • Standard 1
  • Standard 2
  • Standard 3

Activity Option 1

Using library resources as described above, locate at least one book and one article on your research project. Follow these steps:

  1. Write down the MLA or APA (ask your instructor which style is required) citations for the book and the article. You can copy the preformatted citations from the databases
  2. Print out the full text of the article
  3. Check out the book or print an image of the e-book
  4. Write a few lines about each source justifying how each is related to your research topic, and describe/reflect on the process you took to finding these sources.

Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose ( for assessment purposes.

Activity Option 2

For a Discussion Board post (or in-class discussion), review the material about finding books and articles above and answer these questions.

  1. State your research topic. Has it changed from last week?
  2. What went well with your SLEUTH search for books? What didn't go so well? Did you find relevant books? What search terms did you use that worked? Did you use any search terms that didn't work well?
  3. Did you find a book in the library? Did you check it out? How did that go?
  4. What went well with your Academic Search Complete search for articles? What didn't go so well? Did you find relevant articles? Describe your search terms-- did you use the same search terms as for books or did you make changes? Did watching the videos help you generate additional search terms?
  5. Did you find online articles or find something within the library?  Any observations about that process?

Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose ( for assessment purposes.

Activity 3: Coming up with a research question

Once you have identified a topic, state your topic idea as a research question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of marijuana by college students, you might ask "What effect does use of marijuana have on the health of college students?" Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are marijuana, health, and college students.

After you’ve come up with a general question, try to make it more clear and precise. The process of making a question clear and precise literally forces you to understand exactly what it is that you want to know. Precise questions also help you discover early in the process whether you are on the right track. If you know exactly what you are looking for and cannot find it, then you also know that it is time to change your question or get help.

How do you "turn" your topic into a research question? A strong research question should answer the "So What?" test? Here is a graphic representation of the process:




Research Question

Narrow Question

Example #1

The Snake River

The Snake River & Pollution

Is the Snake River polluted?

What effects from pollution have been seen in the Snake River? 


Example #2


Seattle grunge rock

What is the history of Seattle grunge rock?

How did grunge rock begin in Seattle?


Now that you have a research question, test it with some preliminary searches to make sure that you can find information on your topic. Test the main concepts or keywords in your question by using them as search terms in the library catalog and in the library's databases.

If you are finding too much information and too many sources, narrow your topic by searching by subject and not keyword (don't know how? No problem - ask for help!)

Finding too little information may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. An interesting question, for which no sources are available, will be very frustrating.

In your research assignments, you will not just summarize what other people have said or done, you will answer your research question with your own point of view and pertinent materials.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a searchable research question, please talk to us and we can help you identify a topic and refine your question.


Please consider sharing your students' work with Rachel Santose ( for assessment purposes.