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Information Literacy and the Research Process: Searching at USF

This guide was created to address the information literacy general education outcome.

How to search

Step 1

What is a Database?

A database is somewhat like a search engine, but instead of websites, it find articles from magazines, journals, and newspapers. These databases are subscription only and are part of the library's budget, so you have access as a student of the university. Most of the articles you will find in a database are not freely available on the internet.

Many of the articles in the library databases are from scholarly, academic journals. Some databases also contain streaming audio and video, encyclopedia articles, and other reference sources. Library databases are searchable by keywords, subject, author, title, or date. Once you begin your search, you will find many options for narrowing your keyword searches to find more specific and focused information.

The databases contain many full text articles that you can print, download, or email. Many of the databases will provide formatted citations in the citation style of your choice, although you will still need to check your citations to make sure they are properly formatted.

Library databases are easily accessible from the library home page by clicking the Databases A-Z icon on the right-hand side of the page. 


Step 2

Boolean Search

Boolean Operators help to focus your search by linking your search terms. There are three words that are used as Boolean connectors, AND, OR and NOT. 

AND combines different terms when both terms you want to search for must be included. Use AND to narrow a search.

OR combines synonymous terms when at least ONE must be present. OR broadens your search by finding records that contain information on any of the search terms you use. Use OR to broaden a search.

NOT eliminates irrelevant terms from a search. Use NOT when you want to exclude all records that contain a term.


Step 3

Keyword VS Subject Searching

  • Keyword searching uses any words you can think of that best describe your topic. 
  • Keyword searches will be broad: title, source, author, and sometimes the contents of each item will be searched for your keyword(s). 
  • A keyword search can be the first step on the way to finding subject headings appropriate to your topic and using them to get more relevant results.

View this video for some tips on selecting and using keywords.

Subject Headings:

  • Predetermined list of possible terms
  • Most academic libraries use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)
  • A subject search is more specific than a keyword search
  • This is controlled vocabulary which allows for consistency of terms across the database.

Research Tip:

  • Use both keyword searching AND subject searching to get better results
  • Start your search with keyword searching
    •  use your own words that describe your topic best. 
    • After getting results, focus on the most relevant records 
    • Look at the subject headings and choose the most suitable ones for your topic. 
    • Try new searches using subject headings.


Step 4

Organizing Resources

Once you have found your resources, you will need to start organizing, sorting, and annotating them in order to be prepared for actually incorporating them during the writing process. Watch the following video to learn all about how to SAVE TIME by following a few simple steps before diving in to the writing of your paper.

Organizing sources (CC) from PALNI on Vimeo.

Ask A Librarian

Ask A Librarian

If you have any questions about the Research Process, using library resources, or completing these modules, please contact one of our Reference Librarians via the contact information below. You can always call a librarian at 260.638.VANN (8266). Librarians are also available through text at 260.222.5054.


Reference Librarians

Kerri Killion-Mueller, MLIS

Reference & Instruction Librarian

260.399.7700, ext. 6046

Amber Pavlina, MA, MLS

Reference & Instruction Librarian

260.399.7700, ext. 6067





Lee & Jim Vann Library

Pope John Paul II Center

First and Second Floor

Room 101 & 201