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How To...Research a Debate (Yuhl)

Created for HIST 205 (Yuhl), Spring 2024


Once you have a general idea of the facts, use articles to flesh out your research. Articles tend to be more specific in their focus than books.

These could include brief articles for a general audience; articles written for professionals in business or similar fields; or academic articles directed at scholars. News and professionals articles can be a great way to get more facts as well as individuals' perspectives on your legislation, while academic articles will provide you with detailed, expert analysis. Just take care to be aware of the source and its purpose and biases. And, make sure to explore multiple perspectives -- even experts disagree! 

What is a Research Database?

Databases are tools designed to help you search the scholarly (and other) articles and resources available to you through the Holy Cross Libraries.  Article databases are like very long bibliographies of articles that might interest you -- some that are available physically at Holy Cross, some available online, and some that we have to borrow from other libraries. 

Types of Databases

There are three main kinds of research databases that you might encounter: 

General (Article) Databases

  • May contain many types of sources (scholarly, non-scholarly, multimedia,etc., all typically secondary)
  • Cover a variety of subject areas; 
  • Good places to begin research OR to do research on an interdisciplinary topic. May not be specific enough for advanced research. 

Subject (Article) Databases

  • May contain many types of sources (scholarly, non-scholarly, multimedia, etc., all typically secondary)
  • Focus on a specific subject area or areas;
  • Include tools designed for specialized research (e.g., ability to search by historical period).

Specialty Databases (ex - Primary Sources) ‚Äč

  • May contain a variety of source types (newspapers, manuscripts, etc.) or be limited to one
  • Typically focused on the basis of one or more of the following: date; place; type of source; and/or topic. 
  • Usually includes tools specifically designed for searching the types of sources they contain. 

In addition, you will probably use CrossSearch, the search box on the homepage of the Libraries' website. CrossSearch is a discovery tool which searches many (though not all) databases at once. CrossSearch is like a library version of Google -- it is a great place to get your search started and find many sources at once, but once you get started on your research, you will probably want to use a more specific tool. 

Click here to see the full list of Research Databases we have in the Libraries. We have over 300! 

How is a Research Database Different?

Some research tools -- Google and other web searches as well as certain databases -- conduct what is called a full-text search, which scans every word of the document(s) being searched from beginning to end. 

Others, including the majority of our research databases and the library catalog, conduct what is called a bibliographic or metadata search. These tools scan only the metadata, or descriptive information about the documents they contain -- titles, abstracts, subject keywords and other info. This is why searching for sentences or entire phrases often works poorly in the research databases, and why Google produces so many more matches. 

So which do you choose? 

bibliographic search will bring you fewer results, but will be tailored to results that mention your terms in the descriptive information (and therefore, are more likely to be relevant). 

 full text search will bring you a greater number of results, but more of them are likely to be irrelevant (for example, if your search term appears only once in the document in an off-hand mention). However, it might catch some articles that you might not see otherwise, and may help you find articles whose bibliographic information uses different terminology to describe your topic. 

You may want to experiment with tools that conduct both kinds of searches, to get the widest range of resources on your topic. 

Which Databases Should I Use?

How Do I Search?

Any research process begins by figuring out how to search. But, where to begin? 

Spend a few minutes thinking about what words could be used to describe the topic. Be as specific as you can. 

Think of other words or phrases you could use that mean the same thing(s). 

use expert search tricks
Use AND and OR to make your search more or less specific! This will give you more sources to choose from.

  • When you use AND, a database will look for resources that use all of the words you entered.
  • Use OR between words that mean the same or similar things, or that you are equally interested in.

If you aren't finding much, try...

  • Rephrasing. See if you can find even 1 or 2 relevant articles, note what subjects are listed for them, and use these to try again.
  • Broadening (your topic, date range, geographic area, etc.)
  • Switching tools. Sometimes you just need a different database!