Learn to Find, Access, and Manage Information

Ask a Librarian

Get Started

Play ButtonClick the play button to watch a short video on selecting the right place to start searching.

  • Choose or narrow your topic
    • Choose a topic you find interesting, whenever it's possible.
    • Explore! Search for background information before you commit to a topic. Look it up on the Web or in an encyclopedia to learn more about it.
    • As you explore, look for sub-topics within your topic. Some topics are so big that you just can't squeeze them into a single paper. For instance, instead of trying to encompass everything about global warming, you could focus on a specific phenomenon like global warming's effect on hurricane severity or how it impacts polar bear populations.
    • Don't be afraid to adjust or refocus your topic once you start researching. It happens to all of us!
  • Choose the right sources
    • Find out how many and what kinds of sources you need by looking at your assignment or syllabus, or by asking your professor.
    • Does your professor want you to use books? popular articles? scholarly articles? primary sources? statistics?
    • Think about the different kinds of questions you need to answer. For example; cutting edge research is found in scholarly articles, books give good overviews, and newspapers are a great window into what the public thinks. Match the information you need to the source most likely to help you find it. Librarians and professors can be helpful here!
  • Find background information
    • Look your topic up in encyclopedias or try your favorite search engine online. What you find won't necessarily be something you cite in your paper, but it can give you inspiration for the next steps in your research!
    • Look for clues in what you find to help you search the library's resources, like:
      • Special words used to describe or talk about your topic
      • Names of authors or researchers who know a lot about your topic
      • Citations for books and articles you might want to look up in UW Madison's search tools
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Find Books

  • By title

    1. Use the Books tab on the Libraries Webpage.
    2. In the search box, type the title of the book.
      • You don't need to use punctuation marks or capitals.
    3. Select Title Words from the drop-down menu below the search box.
    4. Click Search.
    5. Click the book title you need from the list of results to see where the book is.
      • If you are not sure which book you need, use other information about your book (e.g., author or date of publication) to help you choose.
      • There may be several editions of the book you want. Usually you will want the most recently published edition.
    6. Write down the book's location and call number.
      • You'll need both to find it on the shelf!
    7. Go to the appropriate library and pick up the book.
      • To find the library's location, click the title link to look at the full record.
      • To find your call number on the shelves, ask a librarian for help or find a stack guide when you arrive.
  • By author
    1. Use the Books tab on the Libraries Webpage.
    2. In the search box, type the name of the author.
      • You don't need to use punctuation marks or capitals.
    3. Select Author/Creator from the drop-down menu below the search box.
    4. Click Search.
    5. Click one of the titles you want.
      • You will notice that the author's name is linked in the books' record, and can take you to more of his/her books.
    6. Write down the book's location and call number.
      • You'll need both to find it on the shelf!
    7. Go to the appropriate library and pick up the book.
      • To find your call number on the shelves, ask a librarian for help or find a stack guide when you arrive.
  • On your topic
    1. Use the Books tab on the Libraries Webpage.
    2. In the search box, type the your keywords.
      • You don't need to use punctuation marks or capitals.
    3. Select Anywhere from the drop-down menu below the search box.
    4. Click Search.
    5. Notice the list on the left of the screen of ways to refine your results.
    6. Click the titles of items in the result list that fit your topic best.
      • To help you choose, consider the following:
        • Title of item: does it seem relevant to your topic?
        • Name of author: is it someone in the field you recognize?
        • Date of publication: how current is the book? (A book about medicine from the 1970s will be way out of date!)
      • To find more books like this one,
        • Click the book's title to open the record.
        • Scroll down to the heading Subjects.
        • Click a subject that is relevant to your topic. A list of similar subjects displays.
        • Click the one you're interested in to see all the books at UW-Madison related to that subject.
    7. Write down the book's location and call number.
      • You'll need both to find it on the shelf!
    8. Go to the appropriate library and pick up the book.
      • To find your call number on the shelves, ask a librarian for help or find a stack guide when you arrive.
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Find Articles

  • When you have a citation

    Play Button Click the play button to watch a short video on finding articles from a citation.

      1. Click the Play Button button located on the Libraries Web site.
      2. Type the citation information (journal name, date, volume, issue, start page) in the fields.
      3. Press enter to search.
      4. The “full text” of your article may be available digitally online or physically in a library:
        1. Get Full Text Online – If this link appears, click it to go to the full text of your article in one of the library's online article databases.
        2. Look for Print and Other Formats – If there is no online version, or you prefer print, click this link to find a print copy of the journal in a UW-Madison library. Be sure to write down the location and call number so you can find it later.

    Request A Copy: If an article is not available online, you can use the Request a Copy link in the More Options section of your FindIt results to have a copy found and e-mailed to you for free. This works for any article, even ones that the libraries have in print on campus. Interlibrary Loan takes between one and three days on average. Click to learn more about Interlibrary Loan.

  • On your topic

    Four of the most commonly used tools are:

    1. Individual Article Databases

    2. If you know the database you wish to search:

      1. Click on the "Database" tab on the Library Website
        1. Type the name of the database you'd like to search in the text box and press "Search"

          OR
        2. Choose a database by going through the alphabetical list and clicking the first letter of the database name
      2. Click on the name of the database
      3. When searching, click Find It to access the full-text of an article

      If you dont know the database you wish to search:

      1. Click the "Databases" tab on the Library Website
      2. Select "Databases By Subject" to browse databases grouped by subject categories

        OR
      3. Click "Introductory" to see a list of introductory databases to search

        OR
      4. Click "Top 10" to see a list of the most popular databases searched
      5. Select the specific database you'd like to search
      6. When searching, click Find It to access the full-text of an article

    3. Articles Tab Search

    4. Quickly search 3 general databases simultaneously

      1. Click the "Articles" tab on the Library Website
      2. Choose a field from the pull-down menu below the search box
      3. Enter your search terms and click Search
        Note: The search may take up to 45 seconds to complete
      4. Review the results and revise your search as needed
      5. When searching, click Find It to access the full-text of an article

    5. Databases by Subject Search

    6. Quickly search databases by subject simultaneously

      1. Click the "Databases" tab on the Library Website
      2. Select "Databases By Subject" under the search box
      3. Select a subject category to search a group of databases simultaneously - the databases that are checked in the list are those that will be searched
      4. Choose a field from the pull-down menu below the search box
      5. Enter your search terms and click Search
        Note: The search may take up to 45 seconds to complete
      6. Review the results and revise your search as needed
      7. When searching, click Find It to access the full-text of an article

    7. Google Scholar

      1. Go to scholar.google.com, or find Google Scholar in the Top 10 Databases list
      2. If you are using a non-library computer do the following:
      3. Click on Scholar Preferences (next to the search box)
        1. Type Wisconsin in the Library Links box and click "Find Library"
        2. Select University of Wisconsin Madison
        3. Click on "Save Preferences" (bottom of page)
        4. Enter your search terms and click Search
      4. Review the results and revise your search as needed
      5. When searching, click Find It to access the full-text of an article

      Play ButtonClick the play button to watch a short video on selecting the right place to start searching.

  • Is my article scholarly?

    Play Button Click the play button to watch a short video on identifying scholarly articles.

    If your article is scholarly, then yes will be the answer for most of the following:

    1. Is the article written by experts (scholars) in the field?
      • Author's name is always included in scholarly articles.
    2. Is the article written for experts (scholars) in the field?
      • Articles written for the general public are NOT scholarly.
    3. Does the article report the results of research or does it analyze or interpret other research studies?
      • Often scholarly articles include a description of research methods.
    4. Is the article long?
      • Scholarly articles tend to be long (more than five pages in the humanities and more than two pages in the sciences).
    5. Does the article have a bibliography?
      • Scholarly articles always have a bibliography.
    6. Does the article title contain technical language?
      • Scholarly articles often use language that is technical and discipline specific.
        e.g. "Nonparametric Regression Techniques in Economics"
    7. Does the title of the journal seem to be very specialized?
      • Scholarly articles often come from journals focusing on specific topics.
        e.g. Journal of Applied Physics or Historical Methods
    8. Does the journal have an editorial policy that includes peer review?
      • Peer reviewed articles have been assessed by other experts in the field before publication.
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Evaluate Sources

  • Supporting your conclusions
    • Reliable sources are an expectation of college level research.
    • To be persuasive and get a good grade, you need to identify sources that are reliable and relevant, making sound information choices and recognizing bias.
    • Sources must be accurate, well-written, current, cover their topic thoroughly, have a clearly stated purpose, and provide supporting documentation.
  • Judging reliability and relevance

    What is this about?

    • Does it have the kind of information you need? Look at the title, abstract, subject headings, table of contents, and keywords, web address or other descriptors.
    • Is your topic best served by information you'd find in articles, books, or web sites?
    • If the information is contradictory to what you know, can it be verified? How does that affect your points?
    • Is the research methodology described?
    • Are sources of information cited in text or bibliographies?
    • Are you noticing many errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc? Simple errors are a clue that there may be bigger problems.
    • Does it have other errors, omit important and relevant information, or have an emotional writing style? These are clues into the author's bias.

    Who created this?

    • Find an author's name and verify his or her credentials.
    • Check the preface or introduction. Look for About the Author/About Us links.
    • Look for affiliated institutions, parent organizations, and funding sources.
    • Look at the parts of web addresses to find organizational information.
    • Verify authors' qualifications with other sources like their other journal arcticles and institution web pages where they work.

    Where is the information coming from?

    Why was this written and how does that affect the information?

    • Think about whether this was intended to inform, persuade, entertain, instruct, or sell.
    • Figure out who the intended audience is. Was it written for scholars, the public, professionals, or students?
    • Look for mission statements for whole journals, about us statements, or purpose statements. For web sites, the links and advertising on the page give clues about the intended audience.
    • Realize that understanding why something was written helps to identify potential biases.

    When was the source/information created?

    • Is the date of publication or copyright important for the timeliness of the content?
    • Is there a more recent edition? When was the site last modified or updated?
    • When was the research conducted?

  • What is the difference between popular and scholarly articles?
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Cite Sources

Play Button Click the play button to watch a short video about citing sources.

  • What information to include
    • Information for articles: author(s), title, source title, volume/issue, date, page range, URL (Web address) and date accessed if an online source.
    • Information for books: author(s)/editor(s), title(s), publisher, publisher location, date, and pages used.
    • Information for Web page(s): author(s), title, last update date, date accessed, and URL (Web address).
  • Which citation style to use
    There are many different citation or documentation styles such as MLA, APA, and Chicago Manual of Style.
    • Check with your instructor to determine which style you should use. Different areas of study (e.g., history, medicine, psychology) tend to use specific citation styles.
    • Help is available at the UW-Madison Writing Center. Take a look at their Writer's Handbook.
Jump to top Or look at our top 10 research questions.
popular articles
Articles that report current events and entertain or summarize research of general interest for the general public. Usually written by journalists or general staff writers.
scholarly articles
Articles that report the results of research or analytical studies for scholars, researchers, and students in a particular field of study. Usually written by researchers and experts in their field.
Academic Press
Publishing press associated with a university or other academic institution (aka: University Press). (ODLIS)
citation
Information needed to clearly identify an item. For a book, this includes the author, title, place of publication, publisher, and year. For an article, this includes, the author, title of article, title of source, volume number, pages, and date.
Subject headings
The most specific word or phrase that describes the subject, or one of the subjects, of a work. In library cataloging, a book or other item is assigned one or more subject headings as access points, to assist users in locating its content by subject. (ODLIS)
location
The name of a library and its floor/room where you can find the item you searched.
call number
The combination of letters and numbers assigned to library materials to designate where items are shelved. Call numbers enable material to be arranged by subject on the shelves. Bates College, Ladd Library Glossary
stack guide
A guide that shows where you can find a book with a specific call number.
Chicago Manual of Style
A style guide for American English published by the University of Chicago Press.
For more detail, see UW-Madison Writing Center.
WorldCat
WorldCat is a catalog that shows what libraries all over the world (though especially in the USA) have in their collections. (From Colorado College, Tutt Library glossary)
peer review
The process in which a publication is submitted by the prospective publisher to experts in the field for critical evaluation prior to publication. (ODLIS)
Bibliography
A list of resources (books, journal articles, or other documents) about a specific subject. May fill a whole book or be at the end of a book or article.    (Bates College, Ladd Library Glossary)
Abstract
A brief summary of an article.
APA
The citation style established by the American Psychological Association for research papers in social studies. For more detail, see UW-Madison Writing Center.
MLA
The citation style established by the Modern Language Association for acknowledging sources used in a research paper in humanities. For more detail, see UW-Madison Writing Center.
Full text
Indicates that the entire text of an item is available electronically.
Database
A collection of records that can be searched by computer. In libraries, it usually means online indexes of journal articles. (Bates College)
E-Resource Gateway
One of the UW-Madison’s online resources via which you can search article databases.
Subject
Any one of the topics or themes of a work.
Find It
By clicking the Find It button, you can find out whether the full text of your article is available online or physically available in a library.
Humanities
Learning concerned with human culture, especially literature, history, art, music, and philosophy. (Oxford Dictionary of English)
Primary source
A document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. (ODLIS)
Concept
A word or phrase that describes the content of a book or an article (aka: Keyword).
Keyword
A significant word or phrase in the title, subject headings, contents note, abstract, or text of a record in an online catalog or bibliographic database that can be used as a search term to retrieve all the records containing it. (ODLIS)
Record
An entry representing a specific item in a library catalog or bibliographic database, containing all the data elements necessary for a full description, presented in a specific bibliographic format (aka: Bibliographic record). (ODLIS)
Interlibrary Loan
The UW-Madison's document delivery and interlibrary loan service .
Commercial Publisher
A publisher in the business of producing and selling books for profit. (ODLIS)
Government agency
A unit of government authorized by law or regulation to perform a specific function. (ODLIS)
Journal
A publication that contains articles written for scholars by researchers or experts in a subject area.
General Resources
Resources that cover non-specialized topics.
Trade Journal
A periodical devoted to disseminating news and information of interest to a specific category of business or industry. (ODLIS)
Scholarly Journal
A journal that contains scholarly articles.  Scholarly articles are articles that report the results of research or analytical studies for scholars, researchers, and students in a particular field of study. Usually written by researchers and experts in their field.
Popular Journal
A journal that contains articles that are written for a general audience and does not go through the peer review process.

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