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Basic Research Tools: Research Tips

Last Updated: Aug 31, 2023 9:16 AM

Basic Tips

  • Take advantage of research done by others; consult secondary sources.
  • Be sure to consult footnotes and references in sources consulted for further references.
  • Browse books on the shelf. Online catalogs often do not list book chapter titles/authors in the cataloging record.
  • Many relevant books will not be retrieved with a specific search in an online catalog.
  • Keep track of your research. Record the source searched, the date, the searches performed, useful subject headings.
  • If you locate a useful website, write down or bookmark the URL (address).
  • Be aware of the scope of databases searched (dates of coverage, kind of materials included, whether full text or not).
  • Know the distinction between commercial databases and other materials posted on the Internet.
  • Know how to evaluate online resources:
  • Every database has different searching rules. Learn and apply them for the best results. Look at the HELP screen for the individual database to learn rules. At a minimum look for connectors, wildcard or truncation symbols, how to enter phrases.
  • Don’t give up after one or two searches in a database; try slight variations of your search to try to hit upon one that works and to gradually piece together the rules that apply.
  • When searching a database, look at the advanced search or expert search templates; often they are easier to use than the basic search template.
  • Use controlled vocabulary (subject headings) as well as keyword or free text searching.
  • Use field searching where relevant.
  • Adjust your search based on whether you are searching a full text or non-full-text (citations, abstracts) database. (e.g., use more specific terms in a full-text database; use more general terms in a non-full text database).
  • Be creative when thinking up search terms. Try using alternative terms, broader terms, more specific terms, opposite terms, category terms. Think backward: what terms might appear in the kind of document or material you are looking for?
  • Try British spelling (e.g. labour, organisation , honour, centre, judgement, defence, licence).  See: Differences in British and American Spelling
  • Try misspellings/alternative spellings/punctuation variations.
  • Remember research sources are interrelated. They often refer to or are linked to each other, though not necessarily directly.
  • Consult the SITEMAP and LINKS of any potentially useful website. They may lead you to other relevant materials.
  • Don’t ignore a source because it is in paper format.
  • Ask a reference librarian for help!


Subject Guide

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Law Reference Librarians
Charles B. Sears Law Library
O'Brian Hall (North Campus)
SUNY Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260