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A Guide To...The Research Process

This guide will walk through the stages of conducting college research with information about how library resources can help you in your research.

Where to Search

CrossSearch (also known as EBSCO Discovery Service) is a one-stop search tool that enables users to simultaneously search most of the informational resources available through the library, including:

  • Books, ebooks, archival materials, media and music scores owned by the Holy Cross Libraries.
  • Research databases like Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, ARTstor and ProQuest Central.
  • E-journal collections like JSTOR and ScienceDirect.
  • The Holy Cross digital repository CrossWorks.
  • Open Access collections such as HaithiTrust Digital Library

As you can see, CrossSearch looks in many different places and for many different types of sources. In one search, you might see results for academic journal articles, books in the library’s collection, films, newspaper articles, and more. This can be a good place to start if you want to see a broad scope of the resources available on your topic. However, because CrossSearch includes so many types of resources, you might find you need to filter these results more than you would in a more specific database.

CrossSearch is best accessed through the library home page (

Screenshot of CrossSearch on the Holy Cross Libraries home page. It is a search box with a purple background.

Using CrossSearch

By default, CrossSearch retrieves items in the Holy Cross Libraries' collections that match your search terms. To expand your results, uncheck "Catalog & Full Text Only" on the results screen. If you discover an item we do not have access to, you may need to place an interlibrary loan request.  

More Resources

Not everything owned by the Holy Cross Libraries is included in CrossSearch. You may wish to search individual research databases using our Research Databases list.  

CrossSearch Demonstration

Use the Library Catalog to search for books (including e-books) and print journals related to your topic. The catalog will search for print books and journals that we own in the library in addition to e-books that can be accessed online. The default search will search for keywords, but you can also search by title, author, subject, or call number. Learn more about call numbers here.

Access the Library Catalog search through the library home page ( Above the search bar, select "Library Catalog."

Screenshot of the library catalog search

General databases include information and journals that cover many subjects and academic fields. These can be a good place to start if you’re not sure what subject your topic falls under, if your topic is interdisciplinary and falls under multiple subject areas, if you want to see perspectives from different fields about your topic, or if you simply want to find general information.

To find general databases, go to the A-Z Database List. In the dropdown menu labeled "All Subjects," select "*General*." You will see a list of general databases, with some highlighted as "Best Bets."

A-Z database list with general subject selected

General Databases: Best Bets

Subject databases include journals and publications from a specific academic field. They may include a number of different publications, but they are all within the same academic area. These can be helpful if you want to look at one specific subject or field. Subject databases are also a good place to look if your topic is something that relates to a variety of academic disciplines, but you only want to focus on one. For example, “mercury” can refer to a chemical element, a Roman god, a planet, a car brand, or the last name of a famous singer. If you’re researching mercury levels in fish and search in a general database, you may find results about all of these other topics. To conduct a more effective search, you might try looking in databases specific to Biology or Environmental Studies. 

To find subject databases available at Holy Cross, go to the A-Z Database list and use the drop down menu to select a subject.

A-Z database list with subject dropdown highlighted

Search Strategies

Use Your Keywords

Remember, searching a library database is different than using a search engine. Search engines scan the entire text of a document or webpage for your search terms. Instead of searching the full text of every document, library databases search in specific parts of a document, such as the title, author, abstract, and subject terms. This gives you more precise results–instead of showing you results where your search term is maybe only mentioned once, it’s finding results where your search term is included in these prominent parts of the document. In the last section of this guide, you learned about identifying keywords. Use those keywords to search for information about your topic.

Boolean Operators: And, Or, Not

You can use the words AND, OR, and NOT to combine your search terms for precise searching. These are called Boolean operators and each one has a different purpose.

  • Use AND to combine your search terms. Each search result with include all of the terms. This can help narrow your results.
    • Searching for literature AND poetry will find results that include both literature and poetry.
  • Use OR to find results that contain at least one of your search terms. This can help you broaden your results, and can be good to use if the subject you're searching for is referred to in different ways.
    • Searching for literature OR fiction will show results that include either literature or fiction.
  • Use NOT to exclude terms from your results. This can help you narrow your topic by removing a related term that you are not interested in finding sources about.
    • Searching for literature NOT poetry will show results that only include literature and no results that include poetry.

The Venn diagrams below can help visualize how Boolean operators work. 

Three Venn diagrams demonstrating Boolean operators with the words coffee and tea.


Other Search Tips

  • Quotation Marks: Use “quotation marks” around phrases in your search so the database looks for the entire phrase instead of each individual word. This can be especially helpful if the phrase you’re looking for is made up of common words.
    • When searching for sources about social media, try searching for "social media" in quotation marks. This will look for that exact phrase and give you more precise results, instead of showing results that include the word social or the word media without the other. 
  • Truncation: Use the asterisk symbol (*) to replace characters in a word. The database will search for variations of the word based on the root part of the word (what you include before the asterisk).
    • If you are looking for information about a topic related to children, try searching for child*. The database will look for the root word, child, and variations of the word, like children and childhood.

Example Search

Let's use our sample topic from the Identifying Keywords exercise.

Research question: What is the impact of social media on teenagers’ communication skills?


  • Social media - social networks, TikTok, Instagram
  • Impact - effect, influence
  • Teenagers - teens, adolescents, high school students
  • Communication skills - interpersonal communication, texting, online communication, in person communication

Sample Search:

For this search, use CrossSearch from the Library homepage ( Click the "Advanced Search" link below the CrossSearch search bar to see where to enter multiple keywords. Start with the terms "social media" AND impact or effect AND teenagers. This will search for sources that include the entire phrase "social media," and the word impact or the word effect, and the word teenagers.

Screenshot of the advanced search page on CrossSearch with the search terms "social media" and impact or effect and teenagers.


You can see this brought back almost 3,000 results. That may be too much to sort through, so you can add a search term about communication to narrow down the search more. Click the plus sign below the search box to add another search field.


Screenshot of the advanced search page on CrossSearch with the search terms "social media" and impact or effect and teenagers and communication.


Now, there are around 560 results to look through. While that's still a lot, it is much less than 3,000 and the results are going to be more focused on the topic you're interested in. 

Using Boolean operators and other search strategies can help make your search work for you - when you're searching, try using a few different combinations of keywords and search strategies to see how the database reads them and what kinds of results they bring back.

There are also built-in filters you can use to refine your results even more. Click to the next tab in this box to see them in action.

Database Filters

Now that you've conducted a search using Boolean operations and quotation marks, let's explore some of the filters built in to CrossSearch. While we are using CrossSearch for this demonstration, many of the databases available through Holy Cross use similar filters. Some of them may look different from CrossSearch and you can always contact a librarian if you have questions about how to use different databases.

Screenshot of search filters highlighting limit to catalog and date filters


Here is what the results look like from the last search we did in the previous section. On the left side of the screen, you see some options to limit your results. CrossSearch will automatically select "Catalog & Full Text" which searches for print materials owned by the library and online journals, magazines, and newspapers the library provides full text access to. You can select to search only within the Library Catalog (this will show print books, ebooks, and print journals the library owns), CrossWorks (the depository for publications by Holy Cross faculty, staff, and students), or for Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals.

Next is the date filter. If you know you want sources from a particular time frame, you can adjust the date slider or enter the years you want to include. 

At the bottom of the list, you can see a box that says "+ More Limits." Click here to expand the list of other filters.


Screenshot of search filters highlighting resource type, subject, and language


  • Resource Type: Filter by what type of publication you want to look at, such as Academic Journals, Reports, Books, News, eBooks, and more. If you know you need a certain type of source, using this filter can help you view only that type of source.
  • Subject: Databases and academic journals typically assign subjects to the sources they publish. You can see the list of subjects and select any that you think apply to your topic. This list can also help you think of other keywords and search terms to try.
  • Publication Title and Publisher: These filters aren't used as often but can be helpful if you know you're looking for content in a specific journal or from a specific publisher.
  • Language: Filter by the language the source is written in. You can select the language(s) you are most comfortable reading.

Refine Your Topic

Refine Your Topic

Once you have tried a few searches, you might see you’re getting way too much information to sift through. On the other hand, you might have trouble finding anything you think will relate to your topic. Both of these outcomes can be frustrating, but luckily they are a common part of the research process. Here are some tips if you’re getting too much or not enough information.

Too Much Information

If your searches are coming back with pages and pages of results that may not even be related to your topic, it's possible your search is too vague or broad. Think of ways to narrow down your topic. Is there a specific time period you want to look at? What about a geographic location? Are you interested in a specific population? Is there an event or movement to look at?

Example topic: impacts of war

Using impacts of war as a keyword in CrossSearch returned over 100,000 results. (See the results of the search here). That would take a long time and a lot of effort to sift through to find something useful. 

Screenshot of the advanced search page on CrossSearch with the search term impacts of war

Consider narrowing down your topic and your search to find information that is more relevant and manageable. Instead of "impacts of war," ask yourself: Which war? During what time period? What kinds of impacts? Impacts on whom?

From those questions, a new research question may be: How did World War I impact immigration to the United States from Europe in the early 20th century?

Using this new research question, a search in CrossSearch using the terms world war i AND immigration AND united states returns just over 1,000 results. (See the results of the search here). While this is still a lot to look through, you can now use filters and other search terms more effectively to find what you're looking for.

Screenshot of the advanced search page on CrossSearch with the search terms world war i and immigration and united states

Not Enough Information

If you're conducting searches and aren't getting a lot of results, you might start to think there is nothing out there on your topic. Before you give up, try these suggestions to broaden your search. 

  1. First, try a different database. If you’re in a subject-specific database, try using CrossSearch, which casts a wider net and includes a large variety of subjects.
  2. Try different keywords, including synonyms for keywords you’ve already tried. For example, if you were searching for information about tourism, you could also try using the keywords travel or holiday or vacation
  3. Think about making your topic more general. If you're looking at a specific geographic region like a city, try searching for the state or country instead. Expand what time periods you're looking at, or look for information about a wider population. Sometimes zooming out on your topic can help you find more relevant results.

Sometimes, you might have trouble finding information because the information simply doesn't exist yet. See the next tab to learn about how to handle researching current events that may not have many scholarly sources available.

Researching Current Events

Information takes time to circulate. The Information Lifecycle describes the process of creating and sharing information and shows how different types of sources take longer to publish and share. If you are researching a current event, you may not find a lot of scholarly sources because these sources can take a long time to publish. Think about whether you can use popular sources, which are typically published more quickly, or consider choosing a topic that isn’t as recent.


For Example:

The war between Russia and Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014, but escalated in 2022 with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. You may not find a lot of scholarly sources about the 2022 invasion, but you could find scholarly sources about the broader conflict since 2014 that will give context to the current events. This may be a topic where a combination of scholarly and popular sources can provide a well-rounded view of the topic.