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Literature Search Strategies: Main

Internet Search Tips

The following suggestions will help you become a more efficient internet researcher.

Generating Search Terms


Generating Search Terms

(5 minute video, by CLIP)

Learn some techniques to help generate search terms for your searches.

Writing down search terms can help you save time and make you a more efficient searcher! Initially, think about main ideas and words that describe your topic, and use synonyms of these words to expand your topic and explore different perspectives. This will also help you find more relevant results, and make your projects more interesting and engaging for both you and your readers.

This process is ongoing, so you should continue to add words and phrases to this list throughout your research search. You may discover new terms that are more accurate descriptions, or more appropriate to use.  For example, while you are searching for articles on eutrophication you come across another term called hypertrophication that yields results more relevant to your research. 

Using Library's Databases to Find Articles.

Use one of the library's subject-specific databases to find articles. Each database covers (indexes) specific journals for a related field of study, and there's some natural overlap from database to database. But the primary purpose for using a database is to find out what has been published and is "out there" in the world.

Some types of literature, such as bulletins, newsletters, reports, and some journals that are not indexed in the databases Willamette has.  Read the database descriptions to learn about their strengths.

Using Primary & Review Articles to Your Advantage


Primary & Secondary Resources

(6 minute video, by CLIP)

Explore the differences between primary and secondary sources, and use effectively use this to your advantage with your research.

Sources of information are considered primary, secondary, or tertiary depending on their originality (those who did the original work or commented on the work of others) and their proximity (is this a first-hand account, or after the fact). It is not always easy to distinguish between the three types of sources, and they even differ between subjects and disciplines, particularly between the sciences and humanities. By knowing whether the literature is primary, secondary, or tertiary source you will be able to know how make best use of these types of resources.

  • Primary Sources are original materials from the time period involved, and have not been filtered, influenced or analyzed through interpretation. They bring us as close to the original event or thought as possible.

    • Examples: original research, preprints, letters, correspondence, diaries, court cases, interviews, pictorial works, fiction, poetry, newspaper articles about current events.
  • Secondary Sources build on the primary sources with more extensive and in-depth analyses. They summarize, evaluate, and analytically interpret primary material, often by offering a personal perspective. They will take a much broader view of various works on a given topic.  While these are useful to check what other experts in the field have to say, they are not evidence. It is one step removed from the original source.

    • Examples: review articles, books, literary critiques, commentaries, dissertations, thesis, biographies, analyses, public opinion, moral and ethical aspects, history, social and government policy, law and legislation.
  • Tertiary Sources are distillations and collections of primary and secondary sources. The information is compiled and digested into factual representation, so that it does not obviously reflect points of view, critiques or persuasions. Tertiary sources are typically the last to be published in the information cycle.

    • Examples: textbooks, encyclopedias, directories, dictionaries, handbooks, guides, classification, chronology, and other fact books.

Evaluating Resources (Four "R"s)


Evaluating (Internet) Resources

(6 minute video, by CLIP)

Learn about how to evaluate internet resources, and use effectively use this to your advantage with your research.

1. Reason

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is scope or purpose specifically stated? Do the contents match the stated scope?
  • Is the point of view stated? Is there a particular agenda that is being pushed?
  • Does it have an established reputation? If so, consider what kind of reputation it represents?
  • For web sites, what is the host's motivation for providing the information on the Web? (Advertising for profit, part of agency's mission, educational purposes, reporting original research, publicizing a particular agenda)
  • For web sites, what information can be gained about the site domain code of the host address?
  • .com = commercial source
  • .gov = government agency
  • .org = non-profit organization
  • .net = consortium (profit or non-profit)
  • .edu = educational institution

2. Readability

  • Is the text well written? Is it written in the language of the discipline or for a general audience?
  • Does the source have features, such as charts, illustrations, or a bibliography, that will be helpful?
  • Is the information needed to cite the material easily found?
  • Is there a lot of information available or is the information it provides limited?
  • For web sites, are links to other Web resources labeled clearly?

3. Reliability

  • Is objectivity a factor?
  • Who is the author?
  • Does the author provide credentials demonstrating expertise or knowledge of the subject?
  • Is the publisher reputable?
  • Does the resource contain grammatical, spelling or typographical errors?
  • Is there any contact information provided?
  • Are facts, such as statistics, accurate, current, and verifiable? Are sources of information cited?
  • What sources or methods did the author use to gather the information?
  • Is the method of obtaining data accurate and dependable?
  • Is it refereed/peer-reviewed or did just a staff editor review it? Peer-review means a scholar or researcher in the related field has reviewed it before publication.
  • How frequently is the resource updated?
  • For web sites, are the links to other resources current? And is the page finished or still under construction?

4. References

  • Does the author list where they get their information from (e.g. footnotes, bibliography, or reference list)?
  • Are there many sources listed?
  • Are the author's sources reliable?
  • Can you follow their listed sources to obtain the original information sources?

Broadening Searches Using One Article

Many times you can find more articles and books just by using one relevant article.  By looking at the bibliography of the article or book you can find what sources they cited.  You can then in turn take a look at where an original source of information got their supporting literature.  This process has the advantage of going back to an original source of information that are often foundational in theories, processes, and synthesis. However, it also takes you backwards in time and lacks currency.

You can also use databases, such as Google Scholar and Science Citation Index, to find literature that cite an original article.  This has the advantage of finding current literature, which is extremely important in the sciences.  For example, if the article you begin with was written in 2005, these databases will find things that cite this article.  All of your results will be more current than 2005.

Below is a graphic displaying the concept of these techniques. By using these two techniques together--find citing literature and browsing bibliographies--you will broaden your research results tremendously. 



Zotero is a reference manager designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references, such as books and articles. It also is a powerful tool for collecting, organizing, and sharing research information and sources.

This free, open source tool works with Macs and PCs (a beta version for Chromebooks has recently been released). Download both desktop and browser extension for it to work with Google Docs and MS Word. References also can be copied and pasted.

For help contact:
Bill Kelm, or
John Repplinger,

Borrowing from Another Library

You can still get something that Willamette does not own or have access through Summit and Interlibrary loan. First, make sure Willamette doesn't already have it by checking Willamette's Catalog for book and the Journal Finder for specific journals:

If Willamette doesn't have it, then use WorldCat Local to request the book or article from another library in our Summit regional lending system:

  • Search WorldCat Local to find a copy held in the Summit consortium.
  • If not available in Summit, fill out a blank form to request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Tip: Use the red button in the databases to searches our catalog and transfer needed information into an interlibrary loan form.

Your loan requests will be sent to other institutions that own the material. The lending institution will typically scan email articles, and you will receive the article within 2-5 business days. Books from Summit are usually deliver in 3-5 business days (12 days through interlibrary loan). For additional loan periods and rules, please visit the Loan Periods and Rules page.

Google Scholar

What is Google Scholar?

Google Scholar is a search engine that can find scholarly material such as peer-reviewed journal articles, books, reports, theses and dissertations on the Internet. Google Scholar covers a wide range of disciplines, but is strongest in the technical sciences and weakest in the humanities. Think of Google Scholar as another place to search, in addition to the databasesthat Willamette offers. With practice, you will be able to use both tools together.

No one can tell us exactly what is in Google Scholar, or how often it is updated. In contrast, subscription databases from this page library databases provide precise descriptions of coverage and currency of information.

What do libraries have to do with Google Scholar?

Libraries are an integral component of Google Scholar. By incorporating “Library Links,” Google Scholar works closely with libraries to provide access to their users. As a Willamette student or affiliate, you can set up Google Scholar so that it displays the Get it @ WU links in the results page.

If you are using Google Scholar on on campus, it will recognize that and automatically provide the “library links.”. If you are working off campus, set up your Google Scholar preferences page by typing in Willamette University in the Library Links box and click on the “Find Library” button. Select the item.

Scholar Preferences

What should I do if I’m asked to pay for the full text?

Google Scholar often links to commercial publisher websites which ask you to pay for access. DO NOT PAY FOR ARTICLES! Look for the Get it @ WU link. If it turns out that we do not have the article available, you can still request it at no cost by using Interlibrary Loan.

Can I trust the resources listed in Google Scholar?

Not necessarily. You will still need to evaluate what you find because Google Scholar includes material that may not be appropriate for your research and occasionally non-scholarly materials. Some of these items include pre-edited articles and reports, as well as theses that may not be as scholarly as other resources. You may also find errors in citation information.

Remember, not all scholarly journals are indexed in Google. Many important journals are not included, so you should not base all of your research on what you find in Google scholar. You may be missing some very important information. Google scholar does not cover material written pre-1990 as well as subscription databases do.

What does “cited by” mean?

After you conduct a search in Google Scholar, you will see some references that include a link which reads Cited by 1410 (or some other number). When you see a link like this, it means that Google Scholar can tell you what sources have used information from this resource.

Cited in Scholar

Be aware that there is currently (as of 2012) a lot of controversy regarding how citations are counted for both Google Scholar and Web of Science When in doubt, check with your academic department or professor to find out which is preferred.

*(Note: Some material was borrowed from Washington State University.)

Research Consultation

If you would like individual help in finding research materials or using a particular electronic or print resource, you may want to schedule an appointment with John Repplinger, Science Librarian, by sending him an email at  John specializes in the areas of biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental and earth sciences, exercise science, mathematics, physics, and the general sciences. 

In addition to scheduling a research consultation appointment with John, you will also see him at the reference/research help desk in the library (Tues 9-11am, Wed 1-3pm, & Thur 6-10pm), and during his external "office hours" in the hearths areas in Ford Hall, Collins and Olin. 

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