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How to do library research: Detailed Article How-To

Detailed Article Finding

Need a specific kind of article (primary?  peer reviewed?  evidence based? lit crit? ) on a super-specific topic?  

This is the place to be to figure it all out.

Follow the steps below to understand the basics in how to get exactly what you need!

Detailed Article Finding Steps

Once you get to advanced-article finding, you are typically in an upper level class and have been given a very specific set of instructions by your professor.  These instructions sometimes include specific places to look for articles, specific types of articles that you need to get, or timeframes that your article needs to fall within.  

The librarians at SU Libraries have created Subject Guides that are very good places to start when looking for "advanced" articles, as each Subject Guide has a "Find Articles" tab, along with a list of subject-specific databases (remember - a database = library talk for an academic search engine that gives you back mostly journal articles as results) that the librarians recommend when searching for advanced articles within that discipline.  

Below are two examples of the steps that you could take when searching for two different kinds of articles - a primary scientific article for a Biology class, and a supporting scholarly article.  These examples should serve to give you an idea of how to use the Subject Guides quickly and effectively to get exactly what it is you need!  

Primary Scientific Article - Biology Class Example

Frequently science majors are asked to find a primary research paper as part of their research assignment/research needs.  A primary research paper is a research paper in which the authors themselves did an actual experiment, analyzed the results, and then wrote up their findings.  It is referred to as a 'primary' research paper because the authors were the people who actually did the research/experiment/measurements/testing themselves - they did not read about what other people did, they themselves actually did the work.  


Finding a primary research paper is not at all a difficult thing to do - from the main library homepage, you can clearly see where all of our Subject Guides are listed out in alphabetical order.  

In order to find a primary research paper for a biology class, the best spot to start would be by clicking on the Biology subject guide.  

The Biology subject guide has several helpful tabs across the top of the page that guide you towards doing specific tasks.  One of these tabs is called Find Articles, and for this example, is exactly the tab you should click on!  

We currently provide access to well over 100 databases (database = library talk for an online searchable site that contains journal articles) , and the Find Articles tab lists the databases that are the top choices when you are looking for biology-related journal articles.  A quick scan of these shows you that not only is each database listed in alphabetical order and linked, but a brief description is provided for each one as well.  This description allows you to look each database over and pick the one that best suits what you need!  

For this example we will show how a search in the Science Direct database works to find a primary research paper:

Clicking on the link for Science Direct brings up the main Science Direct search screen, where a basic search box appears front and center.  

Science Direct contains more than 13,000,000 journal articles -- you can see why it is such a great place to search for a peer-reviewed scientific article on any topic you might need!  

A search on the topic "blue whales and pollution" results in more than 1,500 search results - and just looking at the first few articles gives us a good feel for what we can find on this topic.  What is most important about these search results, though, is not just the topic or focus of each journal article, but the fact that in the Science Direct search results, each journal article result is clearly labeled as to the type of journal article it is.  In the search results seen below, notice how two of the articles are clearly labeled with the term  "research article".  This means that they are primary research papers.  

While not every database we subscribe to tells you this clearly if what you are looking at in your search results is a primary research paper, many do have a similar way of labeling each search result, and so with a little time and practice, you can readily get so that you can tell what type of article you are looking at each and every time.

As always, if you EVER have any questions about how to interpret the search results, or if you get stuck while looking for something, feel free to ask one of us - after all, it is what we are here for!  

Literary Criticism Article - English Class Example

A common aspect of research is finding a scholarly article that supports the argument or analysis you are establishing. 

A good place to look for scholarly articles is in a journal database. Some databases are subject specific, others are general and contain journals from all disciplines. For this example, we will look for a scholarly supporting article, particularly a literary criticism article, for a Literature class.  

To look for a scholarly supporting article, start at the Subject Guides. For this example, we will use the English Subject Guides, which are located on the library's main page, in alphabetical order with the other Subject Guides...


Once you found your way to the master list of English Subject Guides, try navigating to the one devoted to research, called the English Research Guide. Since these are also alphabetical, it should be toward the bottom of the page.


From this Research Guide, you will see a Find Articles tab - which is exactly what you want to click on.  This Find Articles tab gives you several databases to choose from.  For this particular example, we will search the Academic Search Complete database to look for literary criticism articles.  

screenshot of english research guide

Within Academic Search Complete, you can specifically search for literary criticism articles by taking advantage of the built-in functionality of the database.  Many subject-specific databases provide helpful features like this, so it is always important to keep an eye out for them when you are searching within a database!  Often, this means you will need to remember to scroll down the screen to find the multiple search options that are available.  

Here, you can see where you are able to choose “literary criticism” as the document type: 

screenshot of Academic Search Complete database

Next, in this example, we’ll use Hamlet as a keyword and type it in the search box.  

screenshot of academic search complete

There is a lot of information on the Results page.  First, note how many results you returned. Are there several, none, or just enough? Then, take note of the publication date range on the left side of the page. You can change the data range if you are required to use only recent articles. Next, notice that if you expand the area that says subject, you’ll get a list of keywords that will help you refine your search (the top six are shown, so always click on show more to get the full list). Finally, you'll see that for some articles, the PDF or HTML full text is available but for others, you will need to request the item via Interlibrary Loan. 

From this page you can either save the article for reading later, print it, or email it to yourself.  If the article proves to not be the one you ultimately want, it is easy enough to click back to the search results page and keep looking through the remaining pages until you find one that does fit your needs. 

Remember, that if you ever get stuck looking for an article, or need any help with any sort of research issue, please always feel free to ask one of us for help.  It is what we are here for!