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Research: The research process

Library books (Print)

Five steps to impressive research

Step 1: Have a really good idea of what you want to find

Start by closely reading your assignment sheet and making sure you understand what your teacher wants from you.

Review any class notes or recommended readings to make sure you know a little bit about your topic. 

Write down a list of search terms that will probably be unique to the books, articles and websites that you want to find. You might like to use to come up with more terms. 

Step 2: Think carefully about where to start you search

Some popular choices for starting your research are:

Web or library?

The main difference between searching the web and a library is that the web has lots of free information of all levels of quality, some of which you need to pay to access whereas the Hutchins Library has smaller collection of licensed and subscription resources that have been hand picked as quality resources which all Hutchins staff and students can access.

You will often need to search both to find enough quality information for your assignment. 

Step 3: control your results

Whether you start by searching the web, the library catalogue or a licensed database you will need to start by searching broadly using one or two simple terms in a basic keyword search.

If there are too many results or they are not relevant enough use advanced searching and combine more of your terms adding search operators to get better results.

Use filters and other available search settings to limit your results down to only the 'best' resources (see Step 4).

If there are still not many results you might need to try a different tool (see Step 2).

Search operators:


Used for…

Works in…



Finds BOTH search terms

Google and most databases

Tempest AND feminism


Finds EITHER search term

Google and most databases

Tempest AND (Feminism OR gender)


Excludes that search term

Databases only

Tempest NOT Weather

“Double quote marks”

Finds the search terms where they appear as that EXACT PHRASE

Google and most databases

“Shakespeare’s Tempest”


Lets you build more complicated searches

Google and most databases

(“Shakespeare’s Tempest” OR ‘Literary criticism”) AND ( OR


Use this when one of your words could end multiple ways- finds all possible endings

Google and most databases


- (Minus)

Excludes a word or site



File type (i.e. PDF:)

Finds only that file type



Finds only websites with a .gov.or .com domain


Tempest AND

Finds only results from within that site


Tempest AND



Step 4: choose the best resources

The 'best' book, website, article, video, blog post or news article is one that:

  • Is very relevant to your topic
  • Is from an authoritative source
  • Is recently published, usually within the last five years is good
  • Is Peer-Reviewed
  • Is full-text
  • Is not too long
  • Is backed up in other sources
  • Is not too technical or too vague
  • Has been influential in its field
  • Is not biased

When using the library catalogue and databases you can choose to search for 'only peer-reviewed articles from scholarly journals that have been published in the last three years', you can even automatically generate references for the items you find.

When using the web you might have to use the clues in your results, like a copyright date on a webpage, to work out whether it is trustworthy enough to use in your assignment.

Step 5: Re-search!

Now to read what you found.

Remember, you might need to go back and do more research as you find out more about your topic. They don't call it Re-searching for nothing!

Make sure you reference all the research you use. For help see the Referencing LibGuide.