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EVS 130 - Sustainable Energy & the Environment - J. Lamb

Tips on Searching a Database

How to Research

Search Strategy


Many courses at MCC will require you to complete some type of research assignment. It is important to learn how to use the library to find information that you will need to complete that research assignment. These steps outline the library search strategy. This library search strategy can be adapted to any type of research you are doing.

Step 1.  Choose Your Topic

Some suggested topics for research.

A. BrainstormThis might seem obvious but it is important to choose a topic that is interesting to you. Take some time to brainstorm about possible topics that you might want to investigate. Write down several keywords that describe your topic. Because you will spend a considerable amount of time completing a research assignment, it will be more rewarding to do research on a topic that you want to learn more about. For example, to find information for a paper you are writing on computers, write down what interests you about computers. Your list may contain the following topics pertaining to computers:

•    Computer viruses

•    Computer software

•    Personal Computers

•    Hacking

•    The Internet

•    Computers and Censorship

When writing down keywords include related terms and synonyms. You will quickly see your research paper taking shape. B. Consult Your ProfessorMany times your professor will provide your class with a list of topics to choose from or you might be given the option to choose a topic on your own. In either case, you should always check with your professor to make sure your topic is acceptable. You should also ask your professor any questions about the assignment that you might have.

Step 2.  Find Background Information

Once you have chosen a topic to research the next step is to find some background information about the topic. Encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference sources provide quick overviews of a topic that are useful when starting your research. These background sources provide short entries on a topic and many also provide a list (called a bibliography) of other books, articles and websites on your topic. MCC Library has many general and subject-specific encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference sources in the reference collection. For example, to find background information on the topic of computers, start with a general encyclopedia such as The New Encyclopaedia Britannica or the Encyclopedia Americana. Look under "Computer" and you will find a definition as well as the history of the computer. Reading through an entry in a general encyclopedia will give you ideas on how to focus your research.

Step 3.  Narrow Your Topic

A common problem finding a topic with a definite focus. Many students start out with trying to research a topic that is too broad and eventually the topic has to be narrowed down by focusing on a particular aspect of the subject. Remember that in a research assignment you will only be required to write a certain number of pages on your topic and you will never be able to cover all aspects of a topic if it is too broad. As mentioned earlier, the best way to do this is to start out by writing down some keywords that will best describe the aspects of a topic on which you want to focus. For example, after reading the entry for "Computer" in a general encyclopedia you may decide to focus on computer security. From here, you can go on to specialized encyclopedias like the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology, or MacMillan Encyclopedia of Computers where you will find detailed entries for computer security. So far, your search looks like this:

•    Get background information on computers from general dictionaries and encyclopedias like the New Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia Americana or the World Book Encyclopedia.

•    Narrow your topic to Computer Security.

•    Go to specific encyclopedias like MacMillan Encyclopedia of Computers for detailed information.

•    After these steps in your search strategy, information on this specific topic can be gathered from other books, magazine and journal articles.

Step 4.  Locate Books and Audio/Visual Materials on Your Topic

MCC Library has a large collection of circulating books, audiotapes and videos. The resources that are on the shelves in the MCC Library have been chosen by faculty members and the reference librarians in order to support the curriculum here at MCC. You will find many resources in the collection that will be helpful for completing a research assignment. To find materials housed in the MCC Library, use the library's online catalog (MCC Library Catalog).

The MCC Library Catalog is an online "card catalog" that is used to locate books, audiobooks, DVDs,  and CDs that are available in the MCC Library. If you are unable to find what you are looking for in the MCC Library, reQuest can be used to search hundreds of Connecticut libraries to find books, videos, CDs and DVDs.   The reQuest Magazine Catalog can be searched to identify Connecticut libraries that may subscribe to a particular magazine, journal or newspaper.

 Step 5.  Locate Articles on Your Topic

The MCC Library has a collection of electronic databases that will enable you to find magazine, newspaper, and academic journal articles on your topic. Articles can be very helpful in your research because many times they provide current information on your research topic.

Finding Periodical Articles on Your Topic

To find articles on a topic, you will need to use an electronic database(s) that provides citations to those articles. The MCC Library subscribes to a number of  electronic databases. Periodicals are publications (magazines, newspapers, and journals) that are issued at regular intervals. Periodical articles provide up-to-date information and are used to supplement information found in books. Because articles are so timely, it is essential for students to use them when doing research. You will find popular magazines and scholarly journals in the MCC Library.  

Article Citations

Article citations identify the article and contain the following information: author, article title, periodical title, date of publication, volume number, issue number, and page numbers. The citation may also indicate special features of the article such as illustrations, diagrams, graphs or portraits.  Print the citation and keep it with your research materials. You will need the citations to prepare your bibliography or "works cited" page. Take a look at the following citation from Gale's Academic Onefile:

Title: Social media: creating richer relationships in the workplace

Source:  People & Strategy. 33.3 (Sept. 2010): p7. From Academic OneFile.

Author: Rob Quish

Social media: creating richer relationships in the workplace is the title of the article. Rob Quish is the author. People & Strategy is the title of the periodical. 33.3 means this article is in volume 33, issue 3 of this periodical. September 2010 is the publication date, and p7 means that the article begins on page 7. Understanding the elements of a citation will enable you to use many different electronic databases.


A citation may contain an abstract. An abstract is a summary of the important parts of an article or text. Many articles that are listed in our electronic databases contain abstracts. Reading the abstract will allow you to determine if the information is what you are seeking. If the full text (actual article) of the article is included with the abstract you can print it out for future reference. If the full text is not available, try to locate the article in the MCC Library periodical collection.