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English 101 Research Guide: Library Researching Lesson

Resources to assist English 101 students with their research.

Getting Help

Click this link to find all the ways you can contact a librarian for help: 

You can also use the yellow Chat Now box at the bottom of this page.

What is a Database?

Research Tips and Tricks

1. When searching, use quotation marks around short phrases to find sources that only have those words in that order. For example "cell phone" or "high school student"

2. Look at the subject terms or tags under the abstracts of articles. These describe what topics an article covers and can be useful as more keywords. 

3. Save your sources as you go! Even if you're not sure you will end up using a certain article, email it to yourself or write down the title and author so that you can find it later. It's always easier to get rid of sources you don't need than to re-find a source you think might be useful.

4. Make an EBSCO account. It's free and it allows you to save sources you find in any EBSCO database (Academic Search, EBSCO eBooks, etc) in a folder that's easy to find later.

How Can I Tell if a Source is Peer-Reviewed?

Does the article have a long, specific title?

Is the article written by people affiliated with academic institutions? (Hint, look at the full text just under the title or at the bottom of the first page)

Is the article really long, more than 5 pages?

Is the journal it's published in sound academic? (Example: Journal of the American Medical Association)

Does the abstract or introduction talk about conducing a study or doing research?

Are there charts, graphs, and other data in the paper?

Is there a long reference list?

If the answer to most of these questions is "yes," the article is most likely peer-reviewed. If you're still not sure, ask a librarian or your instructor.


Welcome to your virtual Library Instruction Session! You're here because you have a research paper to write and to do that research, you'll need to use library resources. This lesson will help you learn how to find and evaluate those sources you'll need to complete your paper. 

The open web isn't the only way to do research when you're not on campus. The library has databases, ebooks, research guides like this one, and online librarian assistance to get you the knowledge you need to complete projects not just in this class but throughout your time at SDSU. 

As you work through this lesson, record your answers in the accompanying Google Form:

A librarian will be in contact with you to follow up and answer any questions you may have.

Part 1 - Starting the Research

You don't need to know a lot about your topic to start researching but knowing some basic background information will give you a place to start. For this part it is okay to use Google or a general website. Doing a simple search will give you ideas on what people are saying about your topic, what sort of subtopics might be important, and the kinds of words people use to describe your topic.

Once you have your topic and know a little bit about it, write a list of keywords to use when you start searching for more in-depth information. To help, ask yourself the following questions:

Who does my topic affect?

Where does my topic take place?

When does my topic take place?

What are some other words or synonyms for my topic? 

For example, say my research topic is on how technology affects romantic relationships. A quick Google search brings up a variety of news articles and websites addressing this topic. As I look through them, I can start to define my topic.

Who: My topic could affect a lot of people, but I'm mostly interested in how young adults deal with this.

Where: The United States. As you search for information, you may find sources about teenagers in China or Korea or France, so having a geographic location in mind is useful.

When: I'm interested in modern technology, not older technology like telegrams or even landline phones.

Words or Synonyms: Cell phones, smart phones, internet, dating apps, college students - these are all words that might also describe my topics.  

Part 2 - Source Types

For this paper you need to have at least three different types of sources. This might include peer-reviewed articles, books, magazine articles, newspapers, blog posts, or any number of other media. All of these can be legitimate sources of information but they differ in many ways. Some sources, like news articles, are written very soon after an event takes place and are intended to inform general audiences while others, like peer-reviewed articles and some books, take longer to write, are more in-depth, and meant for a more expert audience. 

We will talk more about evaluating sources later but remember that no one source type is "better" than another. All source types can be useful and have their benefits and drawbacks. 

For a handy chart on source types and the kinds of information they have, visit the Source Types Overview page on this guide or click here:

Part 3 - Finding Sources

Searching Library Resources

You have your topic; you have your keywords. Now for the fun part: finding information! 

The library has over 200 databases that contain articles, books, magazines, newspapers, book reviews and other types of sources that can help you write your paper. These databases may have different interfaces but the searching process works the same in most of them: enter your keywords and try different combinations to get results that seem relevant to your topic. Then use the filters on the left-hand side of the page to narrow down those results according to date published, source type, and any other characteristic that might be important to you. 


I'm researching the effect of technology on modern relationships. I'm going to start in the database Academic Search Premier because it has sources on a variety of topics. 

My keywords are technology, romantic relationships, young adults

I start with a very general, broad search, just they keyword "technology":

Screenshot of database search bar with "technology" as a search term

Doing this gives me over 3,000,000 results, too many to look through.

To fix this, I make my search more specific by changing "technology" to "cell phones" and adding "romantic relationships" 

This gives me far fewer, more specific results:

search results page screenshot


I can also use the filters on the left-hand side of the page. These will narrow my results even more by selecting only a certain source type, or finding only articles published in the last 10 years. 

screenshot of database filters

Once you have a list of results that is not too long, you can start reading through the titles and clicking on the ones that seem most useful.

Searching takes time. Make sure you mix up your keywords, try different combinations, and use other words to make sure you are finding the information you need. 

Academic Articles

To find peer-reviewed articles specifically, use the steps described above, then check the box next to "Scholarly (Peer-reviewed) Journals" in the list of limiters. This will limit your results to mostly peer-reviewed sources but be careful, sometimes the database marks something as peer-reviewed when it is not. Always look at the source yourself and don't completely trust the computer. For more information on peer-reviewed sources, look at the Periodicals page of this research guide or click here:

When you have found an article that looks good, clicking on the title will bring you to a page with the abstract, or summary, of the source. This paragraph will tell you more about what information the article contains and can help you decide if this is something you want to keep reading or if you need to go back to your results and find another article. 

If you do want to read the whole article, look for the PDF icon in the upper-left corner of the page. That is where you will find the full text. 

If there is no PDF icon, it will say "Find It at SDSU". Clicking that link checks to see if the library has the article full text somewhere else and takes you to it. 

If you are having trouble finding the full text of a source a librarian for help.

Now it is your turn. Go to the database Academic Search Premier. You can find it by clicking on the "Databases A-Z" link on the library home page and scrolling down just a little, or by following this link: When accessing library resources from off-campus, you will first be asked to enter your Jacks credentials before continuing on to the database. 

Using the search process described above, find one peer-reviewed article that could help you with your research and record it in the Google Form. Then email the source to yourself by clicking on the little envelope icon on the right-hand side of the page.

Newspapers and Magazines

Academic Search Premier also has articles from newspapers and magazines. To find them, do the same search you did for scholarly articles but this time, click on "Source Types" in the filters and check the boxes next to newspapers and magazines. 

Find a magazine article and record the author, title, and magazine it came from in the Google Form. Email the source to yourself the same way you sent yourself the article. 


Briggs Library has a number of e-book collections that you can search for information on your topic. The best place to start is eBooks from EBSCO. This database has thousands of books on a variety of topics that you can download and read. You can access it by clicking on DATABASES A-Z on the library homepage. This takes you to a list of all of the databases Briggs Library has. From there, you can either click on the E or scroll down through the list and click on eBooks from EBSCO. Once you log in with your SDSU credentials, you can start searching!

Find one book on your topic and put the name and title in the Google Form. Then email the source to yourself using that same envelope icon on the right-hand side of the page. 

Once you have found a book you want to look at, follow the directions in the video tutorial below. Additional help can be found on the EBSCO site here:

Part 4 - Evaluating Sources

Part of doing research is not just finding sources but finding the right sources. You want to make sure your sources are credible and reliable. As you search, keep these questions in mind:

Who wrote this? What are their credentials?

Where was this published? Is it a random tweet or was it published in something like Time or the Wall Street Journal?

When was it written? If I'm researching modern technology and romantic relationships, articles from the 1980s probably won't be very helpful.

Who is the intended audience? Is this meant for experts or for the general population?

What are the potential biases of this source? 

Does this source address all of my topic? What do I still need to find more information on?

Keeping these questions in the back of your head will make you a better researcher and a better consumer of news and information. 

For more tips on evaluating sources, look at tab Using Evaluation Criteria on this guide or go here:


By now you should have three sources to get you started on your research paper and have an idea of how to find more. If you haven't already, please submit your Google Form.

 As you continue your research, don't forget that librarians are here to help. Finding information can be tough. Librarians are good at helping you come up with good keywords and find the good sources you need to complete this assignment. 

Research Help

Briggs Library will be hosting drop-in help sessions on Zoom throughout April. Whether you've got a quick query or an in-depth question, log on during any of the following times to get some help from a librarian. Zoom link:

Drop-In Hours:

Monday 4/20         2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Tuesday 4/21        6:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Wednesday 4/22  12:00 PM - 2:00 PM

You can also call us, email us, or send us a chat and we are happy to set up Zoom consultations. Find all of that contact information here:

Please take a minute to fill out this short assessment:

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