Guide for Graduate Students

How to Conduct Library Research

If you are having problems knowing where to start with your research project or how to obtain sources to support your topic, the following research guide should prove helpful to you.

Where to Begin - Ask Your Professor

The first step is to make sure that your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow. If you are uncertain, your professor can give you good feedback on this. You could also consult with your subject librarian (See "Receiving Professional Support".)

As a way to get started on your research, ask your professor if they have any suggestions regarding subject matter experts or journals that focus on your topic. They may also be able to suggest keywords for your search.

Types of Resources

Finding Up-to-Date Information

Keep in mind that for some subjects, the most up-to-date information can be found in articles:

  • Applied Linguistics
  • Teaching Methods
  • Innovations in Language Expression (e.g., Technical/Digital communication)
  • Social Sciences

Oftentimes these articles will reference prior research/theory that has been published in book form. When considering whether to obtain an article or check out a book in the above fields, make sure it is a rather recent publication (within the past 10-20 years), as constant research in these fields quickly causes older publications to become outdated.

For other subjects, books (can be older than 15 years) are often a more expert and in-depth resource:

  • Literary Analysis
  • Film
  • Philosophy
  • Etc.

Note:   Books and articles can serve different functions.

  • Books can provide greater background or a more general view of the various dimensions of a topic
  • Articles tend to focus narrowly on a specific area within the topic.

Receiving Professional Support

Whether you need help getting started with using the library resources in your research process, or you need some support to give more breadth to the research you've already done, your university department has a subject librarian that will help you.

To find your subject librarian and set up an appointment:

  1. Go to the University Library website
  2. Under Information - About Us, click on Subject Librarians
  3. Click on your subject (or department), which should bring up your subject librarian's webpage and contact info.
  4. You may have the option to immediately chat online with your subject librarian through their webpage, if they are available.

Make sure you bring specific questions or needs to your conference with the librarian, which may include:

  • - The topic you are trying to research
  • - What goals you have for your paper
  • - What information you already have and where you found it, as well as what information you want or hope to find
  • - Any problems you are having with the research technology

The more information you share with the subject librarian at your meeting, the more productive the session will be.

Note on Obtaining Resources

Articles are the most convenient sources of information, since they can be saved on your pc, scanned to see whether they are relevant to your research topic, then saved/deleted accordingly.

It is not as easy to determine the relevance of information in books by the title alone.

If you find the book using IUCAT, you may be able to peruse the chapter titles under the "Contents note" section of the source record. If the source is available at the IUPUI library, you can also go to the stacks to peruse its contents.

If the book is not available at the IUPUI library for a quick perusal, you may want to try Google Books or Amazon to see if the book's Table of Contents and/or some content is available.

This may save time spent on requesting and waiting for a book, only to find that it does not contain information relevant to your topic.

Note:   Asking your professor to refer subject matter experts is one of the quickest ways to obtain books relevant to your subject. You may also search for other works by authors on your syllabus, or experts cited/referenced in your textbook.

Doing a Keyword Search and Narrowing/Expanding Search Results

Before you use databases, you should understand some concepts about doing keyword searches.

If at any point you are still frustrated with your search results, you can either email your subject librarian or, on the Main Library website, you can click on "Ask a Librarian" to get immediate online help. Both of these options are available during the library's operating hours. Also note that, if you click on "Ask a Librarian," they may direct you to your subject librarian.

Search for Known Subject Matter Experts' Publications

This is the easiest, since, in any database/search engine, you need only enter the expert's name in the author search criteria. These experts would be the authors suggested by your professor or referenced in your textbook.

Search by Topic

Let's say you want to research the following topic: Critical Period Hypothesis

Searching on the keywords Critical Period Hypothesis may yield a wide disparity of results; some of them will be relevant to your search, many not. The best way to narrow the search to this specific topic is to insert your keywords in parentheses: "Critical period hypothesis"

To narrow your search even further, you can either use advanced search that allows you to enter more terms, or even add it to your original keyword search. For example, if you are researching the critical period of second language acquisition, you could search with the terms: "Critical period hypothesis" and "language acquisition". Or: "Critical period hypothesis" and "second language acquisition". (For database searches other than Google, you should always add the "and" between different search terms, or else do an advanced keyword search.)

This should narrow your results considerably to the most relevant topics.

It also helps to search on similar terms, since sources may vary in their terminology.

For example: Critical age hypothesis, critical period theory, impact of age, age factors, language learning, language development, etc.

Note:   If you do not get too many results, you can expand your search results by making your search terms more broad.

Another example: Teaching English Writing to L2 Students

To vary your search and break it down:

  • "Teaching English Writing" and "L2 Students"
  • Teaching Writing and ESL/EFL students
  • Teaching writing and second language
  • Teaching writing and English as a second language
  • ESL/EFL Writing instruction
  • TESOL and Writing Instruction
  • L2 Writing Classroom and English
  • Teaching methods and ESL writing

The more descriptive you are with your keyword search, the more specific your results will be. Typing in Second Language Acquisition alone will yield so many results, that your search may be overwhelming.

It is best to understand the subtopic that you are writing about (e.g. Critical Age Hypothesis) and then include that in your keyword search.

As already stated, for further help on doing keyword searches, contact your subject librarian.

Using the Online Library: Catalog of Books & Databases of Articles

Note:   If you are off campus, you will have to log on to the IUPUI library system to obtain articles or books. Also note that some searches may function differently as a result of being off campus. If you have any trouble, please contact your Subject Librarian.

            It is best to search multiple databases, since different databases will yield different results.

There are a few main options:

IUPUI Online Library:


Databases by subject (specifically for Linguistics/Language Learning):

  • - Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (CSA)
  • - MLA International Bibliography via InfoTrac (Gale)
  • - For other suggestions, contact your Subject Librarian

MetaSearch (obtaining results from several databases concurrently)

E-journals (browsing on your topic within a specific journal)

Google Scholar (


(Note: To use all the features of IUCAT, you need to be logged on to the IUCAT system)

On the main library website, under "Research," click on "Find Books & More."

  • - The Basic Search yields books, e-books, government publications, video/DVD's, audio recordings, and maps.
  • - If you have names of journals in the field, you can do a Periodical Title Search. This will pull up journals that the library has online, in print, or in microform.
  • o You can also do this from the main library page under "Find Articles & More," - E-Journals. As its name indicates, the results from this search will only bring up materials available online.

If one of the IU libraries has the material you need, the results will give you the call number and library. Please note that you can only immediately check out a book available on the IUPUI campus.

If IUPUI does not have the book, but another IU-affiliated library does, you can click on the "Request Delivery" button at the right. It will ask you to specify which library you want it delivered to - make sure you make the appropriate choice.

If none of the IU-system libraries have the book, then you can request free delivery of the book to the IUPUI University library through ILLiad. (See "Using the Inter-Library Loan (ILLiad) System".)

Databases by Subject

The IUPUI online library allows you to search in subject-specific databases that will connect you to many resources available in the world, while limiting the results to those published in the field of your inquiry.

To Use the Database (for example, for Linguistics research):

  1. On the main library page, under the Research section, go to Find Articles and click on Databases by Subject.
  2. Click on Language & Literature: English. It will bring up an alphabetized list. (You may also consider looking in the Education databases.)
  3. The databases for Linguistics studies specifically are Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (CSA) and MLA International Bibliography (Gale).
  4. You can conduct either a simple search on a term, or do an advanced search with a few terms that relate to your topic.

Please refer to the above section, "Doing a Keyword Search" for tips on how to effectively narrow your results, or get the results you need. Of course, you can also search by an author, article/book title, or name of a journal.

When the search results come up, you can choose to view them all together, or separately by type of resource (journal, book, chapter, etc.).

  1. To obtain the resource, click on the red Find It button under the content description.
  2. If it is an article that is available through IUPUI's databases, you will be able to link directly to the article.
  3. If the article is not available through IUPUI, you will be able to link to ILLiad to request a copy of the article. (See "Using the Inter-Library Loan (ILLiad) System".)

If you are not sure about which database to use for your research needs, contact your Subject Librarian for help.

MetaSearch: Concurrent Multi-Database Search

You can also search in several databases at the same time.

  1. On the main library website, go under "Research"-"Find Articles & More" and click on MetaSearch.
  2. Select either Basic Search or Advanced Search
  3. Enter your search terms (See "Doing a Keyword Search")
  4. Select the databases you want to include in your search by clicking in the box to the left of each one
  5. Click on Search
  6. The sources located will sort by date (most recent).
  7. You can read a synopsis of the material by clicking on "Show Abstract"
  8. In most cases, you will see a red "Find It" button that will link to the IUPUI library system to find the resource.

If it is an article, you may be able to automatically click on an Article link.

If the article is not automatically available, you can check IU system holdings in IUCAT (by ISSN or by title) and possibly link to it this way.

If it is not available, or it is only available in print and it is not convenient for you to go to the library to obtain a copy, you can request the article through ILLiad.

  1. In other cases, if the "Find It" link is not present, click on the title of the article/book. You may either be able to link to a full-text version through the database, or again, like step #8, "Find It" in IU system holdings.

If the resource is a book, you can also click on the title to link to IUCAT to search for availability.

The advantage of this type of search is it allows you to search several databases at once, and also allows you to narrow your search results by topic (or journal/author/date).

Note:   Not all databases are available in MetaSearch, e.g. MLA International Bibilography.

E-Journals (online articles and books)

If your professor has given you the name of some journals related to your field, you can browse each journal to find other articles relevant to your topic.

On the Main Library website, under Research - "Find Articles & More", click on e-Journals.

  1. On this page, you can either search by subject ("Languages & Literatures" - "English Language") to obtain many journals, or by title for a specific journal.
  2. Once you've entered the title of the journal and searched, if the IUPUI online library carries it, you should be able to click on a link to it, and perform a search on the issues with your keywords.

Note:   You can also search for a journal by logging into IUCAT and performing a Periodical Title Search. This will not only give you electronic holdings, but paper and microform journal holdings as well.

Google Scholar

Search on the phrase of your topic. (To limit your search results, read the section, "Doing a Keyword Search and Narrowing Search Results".)

If you are logged on to the IUPUI system, your results may have links on the right. These visible links mean you can automatically obtain the PDF version of the article/book. Here is how you can set your preferences in Google Scholar to ensure that the links to the articles/books will work from your home computer:

  1. Go to
  2. Click on the Scholar Preferences link to the right of the Search box
  3. Under the Library Links section, enter Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
  4. Click on Find Library
  5. You should see Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis - Find It @ IUPUI given as an option.
  6. Click on that box
  7. It should also have Open WorldCat - Library Search
  8. The article/book, if available through the IUPUI or WorldCat system, should show the links when you conduct a search

Note:   For books, this link may only show you the chapter of the book that is relevant to your search terms.

If there is no link to the right, then:

For a journal:

  1. It should have a link underneath that allows you to "Find It @ IUPUI". Clicking on this link will take you to another page where you can either:
    1. Search the library's databases for an electronic copy of this article.
    2. Search IUCAT for a print copy. Under "Check holdings in IUCAT-IU's library catalog" click on "by title".
    3. Request a copy be sent to you through Interlibrary Loan Service (ILLiad) if it is not available through the above two means.
  2. You can click on the title, which will take you to the page with the citation of the article. If you try to obtain the PDF this way, the website may ask you for money. Never pay for an article; instead, search the IUPUI online library for availability, then request through ILLiad if it is not available.

For a book/chapter:

  1. Clicking on the title will allow you to see a preview in Google Books, but some pages of the relevant chapter may be hidden.
  2. Check whether IUPUI has a shelved or electronic copy of the book.
  3. If IUPUI does not have a copy, open the ILLiad logon page in a new window and request delivery of either the book or relevant chapters (if, after examining its contents, you decide it is appropriate for your research - see section "Note on Resources").

Finding the Perfect Article/Book or the Perfect Idea

After discovering subject matter experts, relevant journals, and refining your keyword searches in databases, chances are you will find articles/books that are perfect for your research topic.

From this, there are 5 things you can do:

  1. Look up more resources written by the author on this topic
  2. Look at the Bibliography/sources cited in the work, particularly the references cited around the points most relevant to your research topic. Search for copies of those sources.
  3. You can also automatically link to the sources that cite your article/book:

In Google Scholar, search on the source, then click on the "Cited by..." link underneath the source information. All the sources that cite the original source will come up.

  1. In ERIC, searching on the source and clicking on "Show Related Items" will bring up published materials related to the topic of the source.
  2. The online journal that contains the article may give you a link to either related materials, or other works that have cited the article.

Note:   Don't overwhelm your research by collecting too much. When linking to other sources, be discerning regarding the relevance of additional articles/books to your topic.

When to Start Researching and Start Writing

If your professor provides the semester assignments on the syllabus, you should start the research process early in the semester. Because of response time for obtaining materials not immediately available at the standing or online IUPUI libraries, you should start researching a topic as soon as your professor assigns it, keeping in mind due dates and the time it takes to obtain/read materials for your research.

You should start writing as soon as you have done enough research to create a good outline for your paper. Nevertheless, researching and writing is a recursive process; as you do more in-depth research, be prepared to revise your ideas/paper.

Using the Inter-Library Loan (ILL)

There are a few reasons you will need to use ILL:

To obtain copies of articles from journals to which IUPUI does not have a subscription, or which are not online and have to be scanned.

  1. To obtain entire books, book chapters, conference papers, theses, or audio visual materials that are not housed in the IUPUI or affiliated IU libraries.

To request an item via interlibrary loan, go to the ILLiad logon page:

You will use the same login information that you use for OneStart and Oncourse to log on to ILLiad.

  • 1. The first time you log on to use the ILLiad system, you will have to fill out a user information form. Unless you select the Herron Art library, the materials will be delivered to the main University library for pickup (in the case of materials that need to be physically checked out, like books and Audio-Visual materials). If for any reason this method of delivery is inconvenient, you are also given the choice of having materials delivered to your home address. If you are requesting several books, however, having them delivered to the library is probably the most appropriate choice.

Your IU email address will be the email account that receives notification when materials have been delivered/received.

Note:   You may change the information on this form at any time by logging into ILLiad and going under Tools - Change User Information.

  • 2. On the space where it says, "If at all possible, articles will be delivered electronically (PDF file via the Web)" enter "yes".
  • 3. After you fill out the user information form, you can start requesting delivery of materials. While you only have to fill in the fields with a red asterisk, providing as specific information as possible may speed up the processing of your request (e.g., providing the volume/issue of the journal in which an article appears, or the edition of the book needed).
  • 4. After you have filled in the information about the resource you need delivered, click on "Submit Request."
  • 5. Electronically received materials may be printed/saved to your pc. These materials will be removed from your ILLiad account within about 30 days.

Important Note:  Please plan your research time accordingly!

  • - Response time to article requests are typically 24-48 hours, but they may take longer
  • - Response time for book requests may be 1-2 weeks

Since ILLiad is a valuable resource tool for your research, if you have any questions about how to use it, contact your Subject Librarian or "Ask a Librarian" on the main library website.

Last notes on resources for your research project:

Don't buy anything (except the textbooks for your class).

One of the privileges of being at a university is the vast amount of research materials at your disposal.

Note on Borrowing Books

Borrowing books makes notating a bit more difficult, but to make sure that text you want to use isn't forgotten, you can:

  • 1. note the page numbers and paragraphs you would like to use
  • 2. copy these
  • 3. mark the text you want on the copied pages

While doing your research, you may find that some of the books you read would actually be useful for professional purposes. In this case, definitely buy the book. But it is better to borrow books (or order book chapters through ILLiad) first, since you may end up spending a lot of money for a book that has only one chapter relevant to your research.

Content provided by Dulene Cipriano.

Last updated by on 12/20/2010