New to Researching?

Six tips to help you along the process!

By Giovanna R. Colosi, Librarian for the School of Education


Choosing your topic is the first step in the research process. There may be times when the general topic is chosen for you, and other times you will have the flexibility to choose one of your liking.  Either way it may not be an easy process.  It must be narrow and unique enough to be interesting, yet broad enough for you to find sufficient information.

Begin researching with “broad” resources such as encyclopedias and Google to familiarize yourself with the subject more and better understand your topic.

Keep in mind certain things like the length of your paper, the number of citations required, and how much time you have to research.


Use the Syracuse Libraries website to locate books/eBooks, journals, periodicals, newspapers, and other types of media. We have several databases to help you with your search.  A good place to begin is SUMMON.  

You may also check with your school or college librarian’s research guide.  These guides are curated by our librarians based on subject specific areas.  


  • Keywords: Use the most precise words to define your topic including synonyms and alternate terms, such as abbreviations and scientific terms.
  • Use controlled vocabulary: Database descriptors, the Library of Congress Subject Headings, or a thesaurus to help you find more words for your search.
  • Use advanced search techniques:
    • Truncation is used to expand results by instructing the computer to look for the root of the word and all alternate word endings. An * (asterisk) may substitute for any number of characters at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.

Example: Child* Retrieves child, child’s, childhood, children, etc.

  • Boolean Operators: AND, OR, and NOT may be used to combine key words in database searching.  Using Boolean operators can make your search more focused and generate more accurate results.
    • Use AND to retrieve records containing only all search terms.  AND will reduce and refine the results. 
    • Use OR to retrieve records containing one, both or all of the search terms.  OR will expand the search and retrieve more results.
    • Use NOT to exclude terms in a search.  Be cautious when using NOT, useful search results may be omitted.
  • Phrase Searching. Some databases and search engines will allow the use of “quotations” to search for an exact phrase or words together in a paragraph or sentence. 
  • Some databases have a “help” function. Utilize these when you get stuck.


  • Take detailed notes, maintain a spreadsheet with pertinent information, or print out full references for bibliographies. Use a method of record keeping that is comfortable and easy for you.
  • Cite all sources using the appropriate style, whether APA, MLA, etc.
  • Consider using a citation management tool, like MENDELEY or ZOTERO.


  • Is the resource valuable, well written, up to date, and at an appropriate level for your need?
  • If you need scholarly sources for your research, make sure resources are scholarly and peer evaluated.
  • Remember not everything you read on the internet is factual. If you see something that seems fishy, check what site it came from.  If you are still in doubt, ask a librarian!


  • Use the Libraries 24/7 Chat feature.
  • Ask a librarian for assistance.
  • Finally, if you are on campus, come into one of our Libraries for assistance!

Constitution Day

by Winn W. Wasson, Social Science Librarian

September 17th marks Constitution Day. It was on this day in 1787 that the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia and sent to the 13 states for ratification.  In 2004, the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) inserted a provision into a spending bill that required educational institutions that receive federal funds (which is nearly all of them) to have activities that observe Constitution Day. To commemorate the observance, SU Libraries will have a display and pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution available for members of the SU community.

The events of this year, both in the past and in the immediate future, have served to remind us that the U.S. Constitution creates structures of government that make some outcomes more likely than others and that advantage some people and disadvantage others.  Before I became a librarian, I taught political science at the community-college-level.  In a semester-long project, I had my American Government students take a critical look at the U.S. Constitution and ended each semester with a mock modern-day Constitutional Convention, where students would bring and debate their own proposals for how they might change the American system of government.

This Constitution Day, please visit Bird Library to view our display and pick up a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution. But also engage in some reflection and critical thinking about what you might change about the U.S. Constitution to improve the society in which we live.  And as you do this, please note that SU Libraries has a Research Guide devoted to Government Information, curated by our Government and Geo-Information Librarian, John Olson, and that we are also a congressional designated depository for U.S. government documents.  These can be excellent primary source material for your U.S.-government-related research. For secondary sources that critique the U.S. Constitution and the American system of government, as SU Libraries’ Social Science Librarian I am happy to help you. I also encourage you to check out the SU Libraries Research Guides on Political Science and Public Administration.