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Professional Skills Institute (PSI) Resources: Basic Searching

What is a Research Article?

Research or scholarly articles generally have several characteristics that define them.  They:

  • are written by and for academic faculty, researchers and/or experts

  • use technical or field-specific vocabulary

  • give full bibliographic references (AKA a "Works Cited List")

  • are published mostly in academic journals, with titles like the American Journal of Sociology

  • are generally sober and serious in tone

  • may have charts, graphs and table but are not glossy and colorful like magazines

  • often report results of research

The most prestigous research articles are "peer-reviewed", meaning they are edited by an expert panel.

How do I Find a Research Article?

BEFORE you jump into a database, critically think about your topic and follow these steps:

1) Identify the key concepts. The databases do not like phrases (ex. how does physical therapy improve shoulder conditions).  Use only the key concepts terms as physical therapy, shoulder.

2) Develop synonyms for your terms.The term shoulder may not be used to represent that concept in every article.  Maybe the term clavicle is used? Or rotator cuff?  Adding these with "or" in between will help you find more items. For example --> shoulder OR clavicle OR "rotator cuff"*

3) Combine your terms well, using Boolean logic operators (a fancy way of saying andor, and not). For example, "Physical therapy" AND (shoulder OR clavicle OR "rotator cuff". * A short video on Boolean logic is linked in the box below.
              * Quotation marks force phrase searching

Additional Search tips

Selected searches by subject:

Other key words:

  • Disability
  • Function
  • Interventions
  • Mobility
  • Modalities
  • Nutrition
  • Physiotherapy
  • Practice
  • Therapeutic

Boolean Searching

Subject vs Keyword Searching

Subject vs. Keyword Searching

Two common ways of searching for a topic are a Subject search and a Keyword search.  Many databases, including library catalogs and article research databases, will allow you to choose one of these methods of searching.  This chart will help you to determine what each method can do.

Subject Searching is covered in this guide's PubMed (biomedical literature) and CINAHL (nursing and allied health literature)

Keyword Searching

Subject Searching

Words found in titles, abstracts and subjects Based on an official list of terms, only searches in Subject field.
Terms taken from actual document Terms assigned by an indexer
More items usually found, but tend to be less relevant Fewer items usually found, but tend to be more relevant
Have to think of multiple ways of describing the same topic (combine keywords with OR) There is only one 'right' way to describe the topic.
All variants can be used (-s, -al, -ing, etc), or use a wildcard such as '*' to find multiple word endings. Variations of words limited
Can combine words from multiple topics Cannot easily combine more than one topic.