Monday, November 30, 2009

Finding a particular article when you remember (almost) nothing about it

You saw an article the other day that had the PERFECT quote to use in your paper. Now if only you could remember where you saw it. Or the journal it was in, or who wrote it. Gina somebody? Maybe Gerry? Ack!

There's a good tool for finding that article based on whatever fragmentary information you have, and that's Google Scholar.

I was reading something about Frederick Douglass and it contained a really memorable phrase. Something about "rhetorical somersaults."

So I go to Google Scholar on the Library's website ( That way I log in to use it, so that my search results are linked to full-text in the Library's databases. Then I search Google Scholar for

+"frederick douglass" +"rhetorical somersaults"

... And I get exactly one search result: "Violence as an Instrument for Social Change: The Views of Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)" by Leslie Friedman Goldstein. That's my article!

And because I searched Google Scholar with the Empire State College login, there's a full-text link right next to the search result, and it takes me right to the article in one of the library's databases.

Let's try this again. There was an article about John Adams that I like, but I can't remember the title right. It was something like "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Project in Action." Or was it "A Reform Convention." Or maybe "Revision Convention?" "Revolutionary"? Something. I try searching all the variations in the databases and it's taking forever. But in Google Scholar, I just type in the title as I think I remember it, without quotes. In this case, I typed in

The Founding Fathers: A Revolutionary Convention in Action

It turns out I had the title all wrong. It was "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action." But Google Scholar found it anyway!

Google has such a powerful search engine that it makes sense to use it whenever you are unsure how to word your search, or can't remember all the critical details. Just remember to access Google Scholar through the Empire State College Library at so you have fast and easy access to the full-text through our databases.
Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, November 23, 2009

Keyword tips

Databases are set up to do keyword searches. What is a keyword? Technically speaking, it's any string of letters that you type into the search box, which the database then attempts to find anywhere in any of its records. The database can't understand English, so it just matches strings of letters. There are specific "operators" you can use to make keyword searching more effective.

Say I want to search for swine flu. If I just type that in, I will get all the results that mention swine one place in the article, and flu some other place in the article. Not all of them will be relevant. The solution for that is to put quotes around phrases so that they are searched as a unit and not separately:
"swine flu"

Another thing is that if I'm looking for articles about swine flu and type that in, I will not get any results that call it H1N1 instead. The solution is to think up as many synonyms for your concept as possible. Join all the synonyms for a concept with OR, and put them inside a pair of parentheses.
("swine flu" OR H1N1)

Say I want to research the correlation between people getting swine flu/H1N1 and having respiratory complications. Those are two separate concepts, each with their own keywords. Put each concept in parentheses like before and then join the two concepts with AND.
("swine flu" OR H1N1) AND ("respiratory complications" OR pneumonia)

Say I did the search above, but was only interested in results in Mexico. I could add a third concept (Mexico OR Mexican OR Mexicans) but there's an easier way. Just put an asterisk (*) in place of the word ending that changes to include all the possibilities.
("swine flu" OR H1N1) AND ("respiratory complications" OR pneumonia) AND (Mexic*)

And finally, say I wanted was interested in results anywhere but Mexico. For that, I would use NOT to exclude articles that contained that keyword.
("swine flu" OR H1N1) AND ("respiratory complications" OR pneumonia) NOT (Mexic*)

Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, November 16, 2009

Primary Sources

When doing research, you have to differentiate between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. What makes a source primary, secondary, or tertiary is partly the source itself and partly how you use it.

Primary sources are the foundation for research. They're direct evidence of what you're researching. In psychology, a primary source could be a diary or an interview with a subject. In the sciences, they could be the readouts from equipment and spreadsheets of data gathered from observations. Kinds of primary sources include:
  • diaries, journals, letters, interviews, memoirs, autobiographies (not ghost-written ones!)
  • photographs, audio and audio-visual recordings of events
  • sketches and written accounts of events by witnesses
  • equipment readouts, tables of data, logs of observations
  • documents and artifacts produced by an event or phenomenon
Secondary sources are other people talking/writing about primary sources. For example, scholarly articles and monographs are secondary sources. They analyze, interpret, and formulate opinions. Secondary sources contain someone's original thoughts and interpretations of the primary sources. Kinds of secondary sources include:
  • monographs (scholarly non-fiction books)
  • scholarly articles
  • many non-scholarly non-fiction works
  • documentaries
Tertiary sources are not used in scholarly research. They're used strictly for teaching and learning - textbooks to introduce a person to a subject and reference books to provide background information and answer questions about the subject. The information they contain may be correct, reliable, and even advanced, but what makes them non-scholarly is that they're not original thoughts. Kinds of tertiary resources include:
  • textbooks and accompanying materials
  • many educational videos
  • reference books
  • many websites
It gets a little more complicated in the humanities. In literature, history, and cultural studies especially, things that were originally written as secondary and tertiary sources can become primary sources! For example, a 19th century science textbook for children was originally a tertiary source, but in the hands of a person studying the history of science education, it's direct evidence of past science pedagogy. Or a medieval treatise on theology might have been intended as a secondary source, but a modern Women's Studies scholar might use it as a primary source on medieval beliefs about sex and gender.
Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, November 9, 2009

Medical Research in the Library

Whether you are in the Nursing Program, writing a paper on a health and wellness topic, or curious about something going on in your own life, the Empire State College Library can provide you with sound information on human biology, medicine, and the medical industry, including reference materials, e-books, and scholarly articles.

The first place to start looking is the Health and Biology Subject Guide. You can get to it by clicking this link, or by going to the Library website. Click the Resources By Subject link in the left column, and then click the Health and Biology link in the yellow box.

Like all subject guides, Health and Biology is organized under the blue tabs running across the top. The first tab contains basic introductory and health information. The second covers news and new research - the latest articles from various resources delivered right to that page. Reference tools has links to various medical and health dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference resources. Journals & Articles has links to the databases that will help you find scholarly articles on your health, medicine, medical industry, or human biology topic. Books lets you search the E-Book Catalog for books on your topic, or go directly to a collection of Biology e-books. Statistics & Websites contains links to websites that the librarians and faculty have selected for their scholarly-quality information. And Multimedia has links to audio and audiovideo resources that you may find useful.

Some databases you might want to look at are listed below:
  • Medline - This is the premier database of peer reviewed medical research. Go here to find the latest articles that report on the results of scientific studies.
  • CINAHL - This is the database to go to for articles in the field of nursing (and allied professional fields.)
  • ProQuest Health Management - This database has technical and scholarly articles about the health industry - hospital administration, health insurance and health maintenance organizations, the pharmaceuticals industry, and so forth.
  • Health & Wellness Resource Center - This is a database of articles intended for a general audience (and some peer reviewed) about various help topics. Information on alternative and complementary therapies is included. This is a good place to start if you have a health concern of your own.
Questions? Ask a Librarian

Monday, November 2, 2009

Election Day resources

Tuesday, November 3 is Election Day. This is an off-year; most elections are for local officials. Mayors, local judges, city council members, members of the schoolboard, and other municipal officials make decisions about taxation and how your tax dollars will be put to work. Local elections may not get much press coverage, but their outcomes definitely affect our lives in important ways.

The League of Women Voters provides a service called It has information like how to find out if you are registered to vote, your polling location, what elections are being held, laws regarding getting time off to vote, and more. You can also search for your state's Board of Elections website.

Politics is a case study in how crucial it is to identify the sources of bias. Here are some other resources for informing yourself about the issues:
  • Gale Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center - a library database that contains articles, opinion pieces, and primary sources from all points of view about various "hot topics"
  • Congressional Quarterly Electronic Library - a library database containing federal government policy documents and analysis.
  • - a website run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. It doesn't accept funding from corporations, lobbyists, labor unions, or political parties. "We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases."
  • PolitiFact - a service of the St. Petersburg Times and The Congressional Quarterly. It features the Truth-O-Meter, which rates the statements of public figures all the way from bald-faced lies to 100% true and verifiable. There's also the Obameter, which tracks the President's progress (and lack thereof) in fulfilling campaign promises, and the Flipometer, which tracks politicians who change their minds and votes about the issues.
  • is a non-partisan non-profit organization whose service lets you track campaign contributions and lobbying in state and local politics. And similarly lets you track donations and lobbying in national politics.
So look over these resources today, and get out and vote tomorrow!
Questions? Ask a Librarian