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COMP 101 - 08/09 - Common Elements: Home

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Information Literacy

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

An information literate individual is able to:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Within the context of an academic assignment, bullet one is largely determined by the parameters of the assignment.  Bullets two, three and six are where students typically need to increase their skills and conceptual understanding. 

Research Process

The research process involves four steps:

1.  Topic Analysis

  • development of a research question which matches the scope of the project (may include background research)
  • consideration of information needed relative to the scope of the project (minimum expectations may be set by the professor)
  • brainstorming of initial vocabulary for searching including synonyms, related terms and variant terms

2.  Resource Types/Selection of an appropriate search tool

  • consideration of what types of information are needed and what format they might take.  For example:
    • Books
    • Articles from Specialized Encyclopedias
    • Articles from Periodicals
      • Newspaper
      • Magazine
      • Scholarly Journal
    • Book or media Reviews
    • Opinion pieces such as editorials
  • determination of which search tool will locate the desired information

3.  Searching a database

  • Understanding of Databases/Records/Fields/Data
  • Understanding of how the search terms you enter are manipulated to match the data and generate results
  • Skill set of search techniqes such as Boolean operaters and connectors (AND/OR/NOT), adjacency operators (W/#), phrase searching (" "), wildcard/truncation characters (*)
  • Understanding of how the results lists are presented (by relevancy, date, alphabetical...)
  • Ability to manipulate the results list (limiting by date, language, journal source, etc)

4.  Physically/Electronically obtaining items

  • For articles, use of ArticleLinker
  • For books or articles only available in paper, knowledge of the Library of Congress Call number system
  • For items not immediately available, understanding the Interlibrary Loan system

Periodicals: A Closer Look

A Periodical is anything that is published regularly and includes newspapers, magazines, scholarly journals, as well as some less well-known categories.  You will be required by faculty to use articles from peer-reviewed journals in your academic work.  What does that mean?  Take a look at this chart from the University of Texas at San Antonio for brief comparison.

How do you know that what you are finding is acceptable?

  • name of the periodical (journal, bulletin, quarterly, review...)
  • more pages in the article
  • abstract present in the article (not just the database record)
  • author affiliation given
  • presence of a bibliography or references

And how do you find them in the first place?  The best way is to use a database designed to locate scholarly articles in your field of interest.


Searching Techniques (for "bibliographic" databases)

  1. Try a title or keyword search
  2. Some databases have a list of suggested subject words on the initial results page.  Look at them and copy the useful ones.  If there is no list, then look at a number of potentially useful records and copy down words and phrases from the “subject” or "descriptor" area of single records.  Some databases provide a thesaurus of terms which can lead to broader, related, or narrower terms you may not have thought of.
  3. Go back to the search screen and search BY SUBJECT/DESCRIPTOR using the words you learned about as a result of your first search. 
  4. Be sure to connect search terms correctly using the following techniques:
  • Boolean connectors
    • AND connects different concepts and narrows a search: Fish AND chips
    • OR, with parentheses, combines synonyms/related terms and broadens a search: Fish AND (chips OR fries)
  • Use quotation marks for phrases: Fish AND (chips OR "french fries")
  • Use the asterisk as a wildcard character to retrieve variations on a common stem: educat* retrieves educate, education, educating, educated, etc.  Very useful for capturing plurals


Finding Books

BEARCAT the Libraries Catalog (access from

  1. Is it available or is it already checked out?
  2. What is its general location (Crumb stacks, Crumb reference, Crane stacks...)
  3. What is its call number

Locating Books in Crumb Library

  • Reference books are located on the main floor and are "Library Use Only"
  • Circulating collections are in the basement (call letters A-C), and 2nd floor (call letters D-Z)

Using other Resources

  • Check out the many other book resources (such as other local catalogs, e-books, bookstores, etc) on our Other Book Searches page.

Finding Articles

General Search Databases useful for argumentative papers.

If you are looking for popular level periodicals, or have a topic which is highly interdisciplinary, try using our General Purpose Article Databases page.  Most useful for argumentative papers are: 

  • Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center
  • CQ electronic library
  • Academic Search Complete
  • Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe

Scholarly Search Databases useful for argumentative papers.

If your subject is more "academic" than general interest, you might choose to use a discipline specific database.  Use one of the libguides linked off of the library home page to locate subject specific article databases.  If you know the name of the database you want, you may use the A-Z list of databases found on the library home page.


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