Navigating the Research Universe

Databases offer advanced search tools that can help you locate information on specific topics.

Advantages to Using Databases:

  • All the information you find will be from respected sources, such as journals, magazines, and newspapers.
  • Unlike searches on Google, databases have advanced features that allow you to perform very targeted searches, which are more likely to return useful results.

Types of Databases:

  • Multi-Disciplinary
    Use these databases to look for articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers across numerous disciplines. Often a good place to begin your research.
    • Academic Search Premier
    • JSTOR
    • Project Muse
  • Current News & Events
    Use these databases specifically for finding current news and events in newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals.
    • LexisNexis
    • CQ Researcher
    • Proquest Newspapers
  • Statistics & Reports
    Search these databases and websites to find specific data residing in the vast ocean of statistics and government reports.
    • Statistical Abstract of the United States
    • U.S. Census Bureau
    • InfoShare
  • Reference/Encyclopedias
    Search these databases to gather background information on general topics.
    • Encyclopaedia Britannica
    • Gale Virtual Reference Shelf
    • Oxford Reference
    • Biography Index
  • Perspectives
    Search here for articles that include opinions, viewpoints, and expert analysis on specific topics.
    • Policy File
    • CIAO: Columbia International Affairs Online
    • PAIS International
  • Multimedia/Images
    Search these databases to find images, video, or audio to use in your speech or presentation.
    • AccuNet/AP Multimedia Archive
    • Grove Art Online
    • Academic Search Premier – Images
  • Scholarly Journal Articles
    Use these databases to find scholarly journal articles in specific disciplines of study.
    • Communication
      • Communication Studies: A SAGE Full-Text Collection
      • Communication and Mass Media Complete
      • CIOS/Comserve
      • ComAbstracts
    • Business
      • ABI/Inform Global
      • Business Source Premier
      • Management & Organization Studies
    • Social Sciences
      • SocINDEX
      • PsycInfo
      • Education Index
    • Arts and Humanities
      • Literature Resource Center
      • Humanities Abstracts
      • Art Index
    • Science
      • Science Direct
      • General Science Abstracts
      • Wiley Interscience

As you think about which database to use, consider who your audience will be. Ask yourself how knowledgeable your audience is about your topic and think about what types of evidence would be most appealing to them.

Finding Articles Using Databases

Once you decide which database to use, you need to determine which keywords or keyword phrases to use in your search. Don't just type in a question. It doesn't work. Rather, you need to select one or more words or phrases that represent the topic you're writing about.

When brainstorming potential keywords, ask yourself, “What are the concepts that describe my topic?” and then use one or more of those concepts as keywords.

Many databases will allow you to select the field in which you search for a keyword or keyword phrase.

For example, maybe you want to find articles that have your keyword anywhere in their text; maybe you want to find articles that have your keyword in their titles; or maybe you want to search by the author's last name. Because you can specify where the database looks for your keywords, you should be able to locate relevant articles quickly and easily. You're narrowing your search so that, instead of getting thousands of hits, you get fewer – and hopefully better targeted – results that are more likely appropriate for your speech or presentation.

When viewing the results of a database search, you will usually have helpful features, such as the following:

  • An abstract, or summary, of articles matching your search criteria
  • An option to save articles' references or to email them to yourself.
  • Ability to narrow results by source types (e.g., academic journals or magazines)
  • Ability to sort the results by fields such as date or relevance

Evaluating Your Sources

Your job isn't over when you find a relevant article. Next you need to determine if it helps make your point or support your argument. To do this, you need to read the article critically and evaluate it as a source. You need to look at how reliable, accurate, and current it is. You also need to consider whether it is biased and think about the context in which it was written. Evaluating your article using these five characteristics will ensure that the information you present is credible.


What it means:
Reliable sources come from authors/publications that distribute accurate, valid information.

Why it's important:
To make sure the source comes from an expert in the field

Questions to ask:

  • Does this author or journal have a reputation for presenting accurate, valid information?
  • What are the author's credentials?
  • Is the author known in the field and published widely in this subject?


What it means:
Accurate sources contain arguments that make logical sense and are based on evidence.

Why it's important:
To make sure the source's claims are substantiated with evidence

Questions to ask:

  • Does this source construct a coherent, fact-based argument?
  • Is this source making judgments based on evidence?
  • Is the evidence being used properly?


What it means:
Current sources have been published recently enough to still be relevant. This is important when researching “hot” topics where information changes quickly.

Why it's important:
To ensure that your source is up-to-date

Questions to ask:

  • Is it important that your topic be supported by current sources?
  • When was this article written?
  • Has other research emerged since then?


What it means:
Unbiased sources are written by authors who are not manipulating data to benefit their own positions.

Why it's important:
To ensure your findings aren't overly influenced by someone else's agenda

Questions to ask:

  • What perspective is the author taking on the topic?
  • Does the article include language that indicates bias?
  • Who is the audience for this article?
  • What reasons does the author have for presenting this argument?


What it means:
Sources with appropriate context were written about the same issues/circumstances that you are addressing in your argument. For example, a report on poverty in China may be out of context when discussing U.S. poverty.

Why it's important:
To ensure that the source is appropriate for your topic

Questions to ask:

  • What are the characteristics of the author's culture?
  • How and why might the authors' perspective differ from mine?
  • What are the circumstances surrounding the author's arguments?

Gathering Reference Information

Let's say you found a useful article that holds up to your evaluation. Since you will need to give the source credit in your speech or presentation's “List of References” or “List of Works Cited,” you should document your sources of information now, while you have the article right in front of you. You will waste time and energy if you have to go back later and find the article again.

When you refer to a source, you need to give your audience all the information they need to locate the source on their own and read it for further information. References to journal articles include the author's name, the year of publication, the title of the article, the name of the journal, the volume and issue number, and the page numbers. When you find a journal article through a database, you should note when and where it was retrieved.

Chong, J. (2006). Fast-Food restaurants play a role in obesity, Nation's Health, 36(9) ,
38-45. Retrieved August 24, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database.

There are many different styles of citation. Two widely used styles are the Modern Language Association (MLA) style, used in the humanities, and the American Psychological Association (APA) style, used in the social sciences. While both provide much of the same information for a reference, they organize this information slightly differently. The choice of citation style usually depends on the field of study you are researching or on your professor's personal preference, so just make sure you know which style you're expected to use.

Citing Sources in Oral Presentations

After you have collected your sources, organized your references, and chosen your evidence, you are going to have to present your argument and viewpoints to others.

For any speech, presentation, or report you make, you need to make sure that you cite others when you present their ideas. This helps listeners know where they can go to get more information. It also helps you prevent plagiarism by clearly separating your ideas from those of your sources.

There are several guidelines for properly citing your sources during oral presentations:

  • Quote your sources.
    When you quote someone, make sure the audience understands who you are quoting and where the quote begins and ends. Also, avoid quoting out of context or misappropriating a quote for your own argument. You can do this by giving your audience some background on the author and explaining the context in which the quote was made.
  • Paraphrase correctly.
    Paraphrasing means restating or summarizing someone else's ideas or words in your own words. When you paraphrase, always give credit to the source.
  • Present statistics effectively.
    Most statistics require some explanation. Putting your data into context for your audience will help them understand the significance it has for your argument. Lastly, don't make the mistake of overwhelming your audience with too much data. If you have a lot of data to present, try creating a visual, such as a bar graph or pie chart, that will help your audience understand the data.
  • Use multiple sources.
    Using multiple sources and multiple types of evidence will create a richer field of support for your viewpoint or argument. For example, you may want to use a mixture of relevant quotes, statistics, visual media, and expert analysis and testimony. To find these different types of evidence, you can use different types of databases.

If you hold to these simple guidelines, you will not only produce a coherent and credible argument, but you will also avoid the trap of plagiarism that so many fall into.