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Research Methods: Overview

Different than Google

Search Tools - To Get Started

Three good things about Google Scholar

  1. Google Scholar is inclusive. It finds scholarly works of many types and indexes material from scholarly journals, books, conference proceedings, and preprint servers. In many disciplines, books and peer-reviewed proceedings are as highly valued and as influential as journal publications. Yet services like Web of Science and PubMed focus on indexing only journals, making Google Scholar a preferred tool for many people interested in publication discovery and citation counts.
  2. Its citation analysis is automated. Citations are updated continuously, and with Google indexing even the more obscure academic websites, keeping track of the influence of scholarly work has become easier than ever. You can even ask Scholar to send you an email when there are new citations of your work. There is very little selection, no hand-picking, and no influence from questionable measures like impact factor: only citations, pure and simple, determine the order in which papers are listed.
  3. Its profiles are done by scholars. No sane person wants to disambiguate the hundreds of scholars named Smith or clean up the mess of papers without named authors, titles or journals. Somebody at Google Scholar had the brilliant idea that this work can be farmed out to people who have a stake in it: individual scholars who want to make sure their contributions are presented correctly and comprehensively. So while citations are automated, the publication lists in Google Scholar profiles are at least potentially hand-curated by the profile owners. Pretty useful. But wait…

Three bad things about Google Scholar

The classic 'Title of paper', 1995

  1. Google Scholar is inclusive. It will count anything that remotely looks like an article, including the masterpiece “Title of article” (with 128 citations at the time of writing) by A. Author. It will include anything it finds on university web domains, so anyone with access to such a domain can easily game the system. Recently it has started to index stuff on, a place without any quality control where anybody can upload anything for dissemination.
  2. Its citation analysis is automated. There are no humans pushing buttons, making decisions and filtering stuff. This means rigorous quality control is impossible. That’s why publications in the well-known “Name of journal” are counted as contributing bona fide citations, and indeed how “Title of article” can have 128 citations so far. It’s also why the recent addition of content has resulted in an influx of duplicate citations due to poor metadata.
  3. Its profiles are done by scholars. Scholars have incentives to appear influential. H-indexes and citation counts play a role in how their work is evaluated and enter into funding and hiring decisions. Publications and co-authors can be added to Google Scholar manually without any constraints or control mechanism, an opportunity for gaming the system that some may find hard to resist. But forget malicious intent: scholars are people, and people are lazy. If Google Scholar tells them it can update their publications lists automatically, they’ll definitely do so — with consequences that can be as hilarious as harmful, ....


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Overview - Information Overload?

  • The simplest form of databases is a text database. When data is organized in a text file in rows and columns, it can be used to store, organize, protect, and retrieve data. ... Relational databases are the most common database systems. They includedatabases like SQL Server, Oracle Database, Sybase, Informix, and MySQL.
  • This is important because searching library databases including the library book catalog  is similar but different from searching Google.
  • The techniques described in this section will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from the thousands of records in a database.
  • When you search a database and do not get the results you expect, first refine your search - and then ask the Librarian for advice.  She is happy to help you find what you need.

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The information literate student can: 1

  • Determine the extent of information he or she needs
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into his or her knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and be able to access and use information ethically and legally

1Although the term ´information literacy´ is spreading throughout the library literature today, it is not a new idea.  Faculty have been concerned about teaching these concepts and skills for a long time.

Why is Information literacy important?

The ability to locate, evaluate and use information has always been important, but in today's Information Age, with the explosion of online library and Internet resources, these abilities take on a new urgency. Having more information from which to choose can make research more difficult rather than easier. Often the easiest information to find is unfiltered or unreliable, making information literacy skills more important than ever. 

Information literacy skills are important for students´ academic, work and personal lives. In academia, discipline specific information is constantly changing, and much of what students learn in class will become outdated. An information literate student is a lifelong learner, with the skills necessary to continually find and evaluate information about new developments in an academic discipline. In an information economy, students will need information literacy skills to succeed in the work force, whether they are creating a marketing proposal for a new product or looking for current medical research to treat a patient. Information literacy skills also enrich students personal and civic lives. For example, students will draw upon these skills to apply for government services, buy a car, participate in elections, make informed health care decisions for themselves and their families, and manage their finances.

How is information literacy taught?

Students are more likely to learn the concepts and skills in the context of an academic course when they have an information problem to solve. For that reason, information literacy best practices recommend integrating the teaching of information literacy into the curriculum. Ideally, information literacy competencies are sequenced and integrated into the curriculum of an academic department. As students move through their major, they master increasingly sophisticated competencies.

How do I know if students are learning?

Any information literacy program will include an assessment of student learning. Individual assessments are developed in consultation with the faculty member. For an example of how information literacy assessment may be approached, see the current Teaching & Learning Services Assessment Plan.

1 (Adapted from the Association of College and Research Libraries "Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education")

Comments shared from the University of Texas:

Research is Messy

Research is a messy process! There is no one-size-fits-all-research tools, and instead you need to blend a few resources together to get the right mix and discover appropriate resources for your need. There are a number of types of tools that have different types of resources. Below are your best bets for specific types of research, though the thoroughness of your results will vary.

Research Tools
Type of Resource


Databases Google
(open web)


Worldcat Subject


      √      √                   √       √           √
Scholarly Journal Articles      √          √      √      √        √

Special Collections

       √      √      √        √
Images          √         √      √      √        √
Audio        √          √         √      √        √      √        √
Data      √          √      √      √        √
Non-scholarly/ popular articles          √         √      √      √        √
Newspapers        √          √         √      √      √        √
Movies        √          √      √         √      √        √
Government Resources        √      √          √          √      √         √      √        √

Reference Interview - Top tips for a data reference interview

From the full article: (Full article - link below)

Since every research question is unique (unlike every classroom assignment), it is easy to feel daunted when confronted by a new one. These are some helpful hints to guide you through a difficult reference interview:

  1. Buy yourself time by asking more questions before trying to come up with a source; avoid making assumptions about the user’s requirements, prior knowledge or viewpoint.
  2. Find out if the user is basing their query on a published article; ask for the citation or a copy to help you with the context. If a student, ask who is their teacher or supervisor.
  3. Ask the user to explain acronyms and jargon they use in their language; you do not have to pretend to be an expert in their area of study to help them.
  4. Take notes and write down key phrases as the user speaks (if meeting in person or on the telephone).
  5. Even if you are unable to find the perfect source for your user, you can probably give them some useful starting points for their search, based on your knowledge of data sources, or that of your peers.
  6. Do not be afraid to take time to think, search and consult others; always take the user’s e-mail address for future contact or to follow up.
  7. If you remain stumped, resort to asking others: immediate colleagues, peers at other institutions, government statistical agencies, data providers and publishers. Once you have done your homework and ruled out obvious contenders you can email the Librarian for help or advice.
  8. If the query is about using a dataset rather than finding one, take time to read the documentation, try out the interface yourself or reproduce the problem before turning to others for help.
  9. If the user does not voluntarily let you know their query has been satisfied, follow up in a reasonable amount of time to see if you can offer further assistance.