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How to Do Library Research

This set of pages has information on how to do library research. In all cases, once you have located sources, be sure to evaluate them, using the evaluation guides.


The following explains the five-step process used to find articles in journals and magazines. These steps apply in every library. Follow these steps in sequence and, if necessary, ask for help at the Help Desk.

Step 1: Select an Index

An index (database) contains bibliographic citations to journal articles. Indexes can be searched by subject, author, and, depending on the software used to access a computerized database, title, keyword, etc. Indexes are mostly computerized; however, some indexes are available only in printed format, and some computerized indexes cover only the last few years with a printed version covering earlier years. Some topics may need to be almost exclusively researched in print indexes. Start by selecting the most appropriate index(es) for your topic or subject area.

  • A. Ask Help Desk staff to recommend the databases/index(es) that will be the most useful to you (there will probably be more than one; you may be referred to a College Liaison [Reference] Librarian for complex topics). You can also find recommendations for various subjects in Research Guides, written by College Liaison librarians.
  • B. To find the list of indexes that cover up-to-date information, click here.
  • C. Many indexes at CSU are available via the A-Z Database List connected right on the Library Home Page.

See which ones to use by subject using the drop down menu.

Drop down All Subjects list--first listings

Step 2: Search for the Topic

  • 2A. Define your search. Write out the topic in a complete sentence.
    I'm looking for information on prospective teachers who will be teaching science.

  • 2B. Break the topic down into concepts. concept #1 prospective teachers #2 teaching science

  • 2C. List synonyms or related terms for relevant concept. Teachers and science will not require related terms.
    • concept #1 "prospective" synonym: future
    • concept #2 "teaching" synonym: instructing
  • 2D. Do your search. On computerized indexes use Boolean operators, truncations symbols as appropriate (*,?, +, or $ depending on the index), and parentheses to create a thorough search. Boolean OR is used between synonyms and AND is used between concepts.
    • [Database selected for example search: ERIC.]
    • search statement: (prospective or future) and teachers and science and (teaching or instructing)
  • 2E. Examine the bibliographic citations found by your search and look at the descriptor or subject heading fields of useful articles.

This will help you identify subject headings or other terminology used by the index. In the sample search, it was discovered that "preservice teachers" is the descriptor term used for prospective teachers, and "science education" is used for teaching science. Do a new search using these terms.

New search: preservice teachers and science education 

Preservice Teachers


Science Education

Step 3: Interpret the Information in the Index

Databases usually label most components of the citation; however, print indexes generally do not. Each bibliographic citation contains the following information:

  • a. author(s) (articles written by the staff of the journal are not identified)
  • b. title of the article
  • c. title of the journal (if an abbreviation is used, there is a separate list giving the full title)
  • d. volume and/or issue number (some journals do not use volume or issue numbers)
  • e. pages on which the article is located
  • f. date of the journal

See Note below for information about FindIt@CSU.

Not all bibliographic elements are always included (as noted above). For example, newspaper articles will not have a volume or an issue number; often neither do weekly/monthly magazines; however, if a volume/issue number is listed, copy it down because it may turn out to be helpful in finding the article you need (in the library or via Interlibrary Loan). When you write your bibliography you can include or not include the information, depending upon the style manual (examples) you are using.

Nevertheless, always look for the six elements of the bibliographic citation:

MLA: Author. "Title of Article." Journal Name Volume (Date): Pages.
APA: Author (Year). Title of article. Journal Name Volume, Pages.

  • Some indexes will also include an abstract (summary) of the article.

Go to Step 4: Determine if the Library Owns the Journal
Go back to Step 2


Many of CSU's databases, identified and listed on the "A-Z Database List", have a FindIt@CSU button included with the citation information. Click on the FindIt@CSU button to see if another CSU database has a full text or PDF version of the article. If there is no electronic version available, check the library catalog (also offered under the FindIt@CSU button); the initial search will be by ISSN number, but also check using the methods described in Step 4D. The library catalog will sometimes identify full text options when FindIt@CSU does not find any. It is always worth checking the library catalog!

Example FindIt@CSU which found two full text online options (notice that they cover different years) and physical options are listed as well: View it section of article record

Reminder: if there is "no electronic version available" always check the library catalog for CSU ownership of the journal. If CSU doesn't own the issue of the journal (or the entire journal) you need, you may request the article from Interlibrary Loan.  Notice the option on the example above.

Step 4: How to Determine if the Library Owns the Journal

A. Make sure you have the complete title of the journal. If all you have is an abbreviation from a print index, look at the front of the index for the abbreviations key. For science databases with abbreviations, check the keys to journal abbreviations (various titles available in Reference) to find the full title of the journal. Otherwise, ask at the Help Desk for help.

B. Select "Journal Titles" from the Library home page "Find" drop down menu.

FIND--Journal Titles

C. Use Journal Title or "Browse Journals by Title"  to see if there is full text version of the article available from a CSU database or owned electronic journal. Minimum information necessary is journal name or ISSN; adding date/year enhances search results.

Put as much information as you have into the boxes; a useful amount of information to get to an article is the journal title, date, volume, and start page. However, in some cases FindIt@CSU will take you to a journal's page or to a database page and you have to find the article within that journal or database.

This is what the Citation Linker, called Find Journals looks like:

Citation Linker

Type in exact title of the journal/magazine and press enter (or Submit button).

Verify the location of the specific volume/years you want . The reason for this is that the same journal could be in more than one of the following places:

  • Current Journals (current two years for most journals),
  • Bound Journals (bound volumes),
  • Storage (request volume by pressing Request and following the instructions: your ID number is your student/faculty/staff number),
  • Microtext (Microform collection), and/or
  • Reference, or another Library building such as ATMOS or VET.

CSU journals are arranged in call number order so be sure to write the call number down along with the location of the specific volume you need. Check to see if volumes in MORGAN are "AVAILABLE" because they can be checked out. (Checked out volumes will have "DUE 00-00-00.")

E. See staff at the Help Desk or a College Liaison librarian if having difficulties.

Note: if CSU doesn't own a journal and there is a specific article you need, request the article electronically through Interlibrary Loan (ILL). ILL is done electronically from the Libraries Home Web Page via Interlibrary Loan and from within the FindIt@CSU Find Journals screens.

Step 5: Locate the Journal

  • Make certain that the volume or issue needed is AVAILABLE.
  • It is necessary to have the complete CALL NUMBER and LOCATION, during your search you might see this Locate button which will show you the location of an item in the library.
  • Journals are found throughout the library as indicated in Step 4:
    • CURRENT JOURNALS (current two years for most journals),
    • BOUND JOURNALS (movable shelves, Basement South (bound volumes)
    • MORGAN (stacks),
    • STORAGE (request volume by pressing Request and following the instructions: your eID name and password is your student/faculty/staff name and the password you chose,
    • MICROTEXT (Microform collection, Basement West), and/or
    • REFERENCE, or another Library building such as VET
  • Most current journals (most recent two years) are located on 2nd Floor West. Most older bound volumes are found in the BOUND JOURNALS (lower level/basement) or in MICROTEXT (Basement West).
  • Can't find a journal on the shelf? The Library has sorting areas where volumes are collected and organized in preparation for return to the shelf. The volume you are looking for may be in one of these areas. Also check for missing volumes at the Loan & Reserve counter. If the volume you need is checked out, use the Request button to recall it. Follow the on-screen prompts.
  • See the Building Maps to see where items are located within Morgan Library.
  • If you aren't sure where something can be found, please do not hesitate to ask a staff member at the Help Desk for directions.

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