The databases available through RSU Libraries index a variety of scholarly, trade, and popular sources. In order to complete your assignments successfully, it is important to understand the difference between each of these.
Scholarly, or "peer-reviewed" sources, are written by scholars for other scholars and students in a particular field, and undergo an extensive review process (peer-review) before they are published. For this reason, scholarly literature plays a central role in most academic disciplines, including history, the humanities, social sciences, and the hard sciences. If your professor requires that you use scholarly publications for an assignment, understand that there is no substitute for this type of source. If you have questions about whether or not a source is scholarly, ask your professor or librarian.
Like scholarly sources, trade sources are written for experts and students in a given field, but do not undergo a peer-review process before they are published. Although they are not scholarly in nature, trade publications can be excellent sources of information, and are used extensively in ever-evolving fields where research dates quickly, such as business and technology.
Unlike scholarly and trade sources, which are written for academic and professional audiences, popular sources are written for a general audience. The term "popular source" is used to describe everything from entertainment magazines like Maxim to highly regarded national newspapers, such as The New York Times. Quality popular publications can be great sources for academic research, so long as they are chosen carefully and used appropriately. The quality of popular sources varies greatly, so be selective about which ones you use for your assignments.
The academic databases listed on this page are excellent sources for magazine, news, and journal articles. Library databases are different from online search engines like Google, so you will need to master a few basic concepts in order to use them effectively. This guide will outline what you need to know to find the best sources:
When using the databases, you should exclude all extraneous words from your searches. First, leave out all articles (a, and, the) in your search. Next, narrow your search terms down to two or three words that describe exactly what you hope to find For example, if you are writing a paper about the theme of discrimination in Frankenstein, narrowing your search terms down to discrimination and Frankenstein will likely retrieve a manageable list of more precise results.
After you have selected your initial search terms, list any synonyms or related terms that might be relevant to your topic. For example, if your search terms are Frankenstein and discrimination, you might want to try synonyms such as "prejudice" or "intolerance" in place of discrimination. You may even replace discrimination with a related term, such as "inhumanity." Successful searches are often the result of trying out a variety of terms. Most databases will provide you with suggestions of additional or alternate search terms to use, which can lead you to better results in a shorter amount of time.
Two or more search terms may be combined in different ways to yield different results. The connectors AND, OR, NOT are useful search tools, and most databases have these built in to make searching easier. Use the connector AND to yield results that contain both search terms. Use OR for results that contain either term. Use NOT to exclude results that contain a specific term.
Different databases index different content, and selecting the right database is just as important to successful searching as choosing the right search terms. A search that retrieves few or no results in one database may work well in another. If you retrieve too few or irrelevant results in one database, try a different one.