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Research Skills Tutorial




    • Academic Integrity - An ideal and standard to which members of the scholarly community hold themselves, involving honesty, fairness, respect and responsibility. People often refer to academic integrity when discussing some of its opposites: cheating and plagiarism.
    • Access Point - In a database, a category of information that can be searched to retrieve a record. If a database is searchable by author and title, then both author and title are access points.
    • Almanac - A reference source published every year that provides tables, charts and lists of statistical information on various topics. The information may be both current and retrospective (past.)
    • Annotated Bibliography - A bibliography that includes information describing the resource. Annotations may describe the contents of a resource, summarize research methods and conclusions or assess the quality or usefulness of the resource.
    • Annual - A publication that is issued every year.
    • Atlas - A reference source that provides maps and information about them. The emphasis may be on geographical features, political boundaries, economic, social, demographic or scientific information.

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    • Bibliography - 1. A reference tool that provides a list of sources (books, articles, etc.) on a particular subject. The entries may or may not be annotated. 2. A list of works cited and possibly also works consulted, placed at the end of any scholarly piece of writing. Format varies according to style (see Style Manuals) but always includes information about the author and title, publisher and publication date for books, and journal title, volume, issue, date and page numbers for articles. Web site information includes URL and date accessed.
    • Biographical Source - A reference source that provides information about the life and works of notable individuals.
    • Boolean Searching - Searching using the Boolean Operators AND, OR and NOT. A Boolean AND connects two search terms so that all records retrieved must contain both of them. A Boolean OR connects them so that all records have either one search term or the other, or both. A Boolean NOT connects search terms so that all records retrieved have the first search term but do not have the second.

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    • Citation Chaining - Searching for the works that cited a particular work, or all the works that were cited by that work. The theory behind it is that if you find one article on a topic, the works cited in that article (and cited by it) will be on closely related topics.
    • Citing - The process of creating in-text citations (footnotes, endnotes and parenthetical references) to connect passages that you quoted or cited from other sources to bibliographic information about those sources, and also creating a bibliography or works cited of all sources used. Documenting sources allows the reader to distinguish original ideas from ideas derived from other authors, and to trace those ideas back to their sources. Failure to document sources properly is one kind of plagiarism.
    • Classification System - A scheme for organizing information according to subject. The two most commonly used in U.S. libraries are the Dewey Decimal and the Library of Congress classification systems.
    • Concept Chart - Part of developing a good search strategy. A concept chart helps you generate keywords for your search. Each separate idea, or concept, in your research topic becomes a column in your concept chart. Under it, you write synonyms and related words or phrases that become keywords in your search.
    • Controlled Vocabulary - A standardized list of terms, in which each concept is represented by one term and each term represents only one concept for easier, more effective searching. Alternate words are referred to the descriptor with cross-references. Controlled vocabularies were more common in the 1990s and early 2000s, and have been largely replaced with keyword searching.
    • Cross-reference - Links the word you searched for with the word used in the database or index. It may also link the word you searched for to a broader, narrower or related term.

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    • Dictionary - A reference source that provides information about the pronunciation, usages and definitions of words. Etymological dictionaries provide information about the origins of words. Bilingual dictionaries allow the user to find translations of words in other languages.
    • Directory - A reference source that provides contact information for individuals, businesses and/or organizations.
    • Discovery System or Search- A library discovery system searches the catalog and many of the databases at once. It is the default search for the NCCC Library. 
    • Documenting Sources - See Citing.
    • DOI - Digital Object Identifier. A unique identification number assigned to a digital document in an online environment so it can be readily identified and located. The DOI is associated not only with the document itself, but with the document's metadata (data describing the document's characteristics, which may include details such as URL, format and file size.) Not all digital documents have a DOI, but most online scholarly articles do.

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    • E-book - A book in digital format (readable on computer or handheld device.) Sometimes spelled ebook.
    • Encyclopedia - A reference source that provides a general overview and background information for topics. There are general and subject-specific encyclopedias.
    • Ephemera - Documents or items related to an event or topic, which were created to be disposable, but later have value as primary sources. E.g., tickets, posters, fliers, programs, and  memorabilia.
    • Evidence - The material gathered during research that supports the thesis of your paper, article or book. Evidence may consist of data from experiments and studies; anecdotes; supporting opinions and interpretations from authorities; facts represented in words, numbers, or visual displays and illustrations or examples.

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    • Full-text - A computer file of the entire text (usually including any images) of an article available online.

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    • Gazetteer - A reference source that combines maps with charts, tables, statistics and textual information to provide information about a geographical region. Typically, a gazetteer provides an alphabetized list of locations and features within that region, which correlate with the coordinates on the maps. It may also provide demographic, economic, geographic, scientific and social data.

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    • Handbook - A reference source that provides factual information, arranged for easy access, about a specific subject.

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    • Interlibrary Loan - A service provided by some libraries that allows patrons to have books from other libraries delivered to their home library (or in some cases to their home.) Empire State College has interlibrary loan for all faculty, staff, and students, which supplies electronically delivered articles and book chapters (no physical materials.) Often abbreviated ILL
    • ISBN - International Standard Book Number. A unique identifier associated with each edition of each book so that it is not confused with any other. You can search by ISBN in and
    • ISSN - International Standard Serial Number. A unique identifier associated with each serial (journal, magazine) title so that it is not confused with any other. (When a periodical changes its title, it gets a new ISSN, even if it is essentially still the same periodical.)
    • Issue - Periodicals (journals, magazines, etc.) are published by issue, which are then collected into volumes. Issues may come out every week, month, quarter or some other period. Issues, like volumes, are numbered.
    • Iterative Searching - The process of searching over and over again, with the results of each search used as feedback to improve the next search.

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    • Keyword Searching - By far the most common kind of searching in databases, online catalogs and search engines. It works by entering words and phrases for a concept that you would expect to find in the title or full-text of the resources you are looking for. Most databases are set up so that you are automatically searching for keywords, but if they are not, there is usually a menu where you can select "Keyword" or "All Fields."

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    • Manual - A reference resource that provides instructions for performing a task or operating a piece of equipment. It may also provide expert-level factual information.
    • Meta-search Engine - A type of search engine that retrieves the top results for your query from multiple other search engines.
    • Monograph - Scholarly book.

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    • OPAC - A library's online catalog. Short for Online Public Access Catalog.

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    • Peer Reviewed Journal - A type of scholarly journal. Peer review is a process where fellow experts look over an article before it is published so that errors, bias, irrelevancies and poor writing don't make it into print.
    • Periodical - A publication that is issued at regular (periodic) intervals. Includes journals, magazines, newspapers, etc.
    • Plagiarism - A form of academic dishonesty that involves quoting, paraphrasing or otherwise using another author’s work without properly documenting the source of the information. It is plagiarism even if it is unintentional.
    • Popular Magazine - A type of non-scholarly periodical, intended for a general audience. Magazines make their profit from advertisements. Content is produced by staff writers and freelance writers, not subject experts.
    • Precision - In searching a database or search engine, precision is a measure of how many of your results were actually on topic. See Recall.
    • Primary Source - A source that is a first-hand account or “byproduct of history,” and not somebody's interpretation. Primary sources are evidence of the phenomena you are researching. Examples are data from an experiment or study, a diary entry or letter, a recording of an event or happening and material evidence generated by an event or happening.
    • Proximity Search - Searching for search terms near each other in the text. Most commonly, quotation marks (“”) are used to surround a phrase so that all the words in the phrase are found together, in that order.
    • PURL - Also known as "persistent URL" or "stable URL." The web address of a resource often a full-text article in a database or an e-book, that is meant to provide long-term access to that page. Whenever a PURL is available for a resource, use it instead of the URL from the address bar of the browser.

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    • Recall - In searching a database or search engine, recall is a measure of how many of the possible search results about your topic did you actually retrieve.
    • Refereed Journal - A type of scholarly journal. Includes peer reviewed journals and also journals that are reviewed by an editorial board of experts rather than anonymous volunteer experts.
    • Research Database - A search tool that contains bibliographic information about articles (or other types of resources) and sometimes the full-text as well.
    • Research Question - The question that your research project is designed to answer. Your research question focuses your topic into a manageable area, helps you decide what information is relevant, and helps you organize your paper.
    • Results Ranking - The way that search results are arranged. Many library databases rank results with the most recent ones at the top. Google sorts the results so that the sites that get the most traffic are at the top of the list. Other search engines sort results according to how many times your keywords appear in the site, and whether they appear in "important" parts of the site.

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    • Scholarly Journal - A periodical whose articles are written by experts, for experts, and contain detailed, advanced information with citations and a bibliography. Scholarly journals do not contain advertisements (except announcements of academic job openings and conferences.) Scholarly journals are refereed, usually peer reviewed.
    • Search Engine - An Internet service that finds web sites that match your search query. Search engines use “bots,” “spiders” or “crawlers” to index content on the Internet, and use algorithms to compare your search terms with that content to bring up the web sites that might match your need. Google is the most popular search engine at this time.
    • Search Strategy - A plan for finding resources that will answer your research question. A search strategy involves formulating a clear question, determining where to search (which databases? Search engine? Library catalog?), finding keywords and searching. It also involves going through your results, adjusting your strategy, trying again and finally selecting the best resources to use.
    • Search Term - The words you type into a search box that represent what you want to find. A keyword is the most commonly used type of search term, but it may also be the author's name, the journal's title, etc.
    • Secondary Source - A source that is someone’s analysis, interpretation, synthesis or response to primary sources. Scholarly articles and monographs are secondary sources. In doing research, you use secondary sources to inform yourself and back up (or challenge) your own ideas.
    • Serial - A type of publication that puts out material in successive parts on an ongoing basis. Serials include periodicals and some series of books, audio and audiovideo resources.
    • Statistical Source - A reference source that provides tables and visual presentations of statistical information.
    • Style Manual - Reference source that specifies the particulars of spelling, grammar, style, formatting and documenting sources for scholarly writing. The most widely used style manuals are APA, MLA, CSE and Chicago/Turabian.
    • Subject Term - Also called a subject heading or descriptor. Like a keyword, a subject heading represents a concept, but it's part of a controlled vocabulary. This means that it is the only word for that concept, and it stands for only that one concept. All other words for that concept are referred back to the subject heading through cross-referencing. Many databases allow you to browse by subject headings or narrow your search results by clicking on a subject heading.
    • Synonym - A word that means the same thing as another word. Synonyms are often useful in keyword searching. To find synonyms, use a thesaurus.

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    • Technical Report - A document that describes the progress and outcomes of a study. They are not usually peer reviewed, but they are usually written by experts and are an important resource for current scientific and technological information.
    • Tertiary Source - A source that brings together a body of knowledge in a subject area, or contains interpretations or syntheses of secondary sources. Examples are reference resources and textbooks. Tertiary sources are useful for providing background or an overview, but they are not appropriate for scholarly research.
    • Thesaurus - 1. A reference resource that provides synonyms and antonyms (words with the opposite meaning). 2. In a research database, a list of the controlled vocabulary (subject terms, subject headings or descriptors) used to describe the content of articles.
    • Thesis - The central argument of a research paper. A thesis is formed by restating your research question with the quick version of your answer.
    • Trade Journal - A periodical that is not scholarly, but not popular either. While it isn't peer reviewed and may contain advertising, the content is written by experts for experts, and is detailed and advanced. Usually produced by members of occupations that require extensive specialized knowledge but not necessarily an advanced degree. (For example, fire fighting, hospitality industry or electricians.)
    • Truncation - when searching in a database, the act of cutting a word short and replacing the last letter or letters with a wildcard (often a ? or a *) so that variant spellings will be retrieved.

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    • Union Catalog - A database that combines the library catalogs of multiple libraries. For example, WorldCat is a huge union catalog that invites all libraries all over the world to participate.
    • URL - Short for Uniform Resource Locator, also called a web address. The series of letters and characters beginning with “http://” that you can see in the address bar of your web browser when you go to a web page. It serves as an identifier for that web resource and instructs your browser to retrieve that resource when you type or paste it into the address window.

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    • Volume - Serials are published in numbered volumes, usually by year. Volumes are further subdivided by issue.

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    • Wildcard - A character used in searching at the end of the word (for truncating), and in some databases, in the middle of the world. The character stands in for one or more missing letters so the system retrieves variants on the word. Often a ? or a *.
    • Works Cited - Another word for a bibliography. But a bibliography may list all the works that informed or influenced your work, whereas a works cited lists only the works that you cited in your work.

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