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Research Success for High School Students Transitioning to College: Research Basics

Pre and Post Tests URLs

Use Boolean operators and truncation

Boolean operators: (AND, OR, NOT) combine search terms to narrow or broaden results

Wildcard: (# or ?) Replaces a character, for example, “ne#t” or “ne?t” finds neat, nest, or next by will not find net.

Truncation: (*) Replaces any number of characters and will find all forms of a word root, for example “therap*” finds therapy, therapies, therapist, therapists, therapeutic, etc.


What is the difference between keywords and subject terms?

Keywords are taken from the article and represent the natural language used by the author. Authors or journal editors may provide the keywords. Subject terms are controlled vocabulary terms. An example of a set of controlled vocabulary is from the National Library of Medicine - Medical Subject Headings (MESH).

What are scholarly journals and how are they different from popular magazines?

For some assignments, you will be required to search for scholarly, peer reviewed journals (especially in AP courses and college courses). Scholarly journals are published by a professional society or association. In order for articles to be included in some scholarly journals, they must be reviewed and accepted by an editorial board. These journals are known as juried, refereed or peer reviewed journals. Popular, news, or opinion magazines (for example Time magazine) provide an “average person’s view of an issue”. These magazines do not report results of research projects, have a peer review process or include annotated bibliographies.

What are primary and secondary resources of research?

Primary sources report the results of original studies and represent the latest information on a topic. Secondary sources can be reviews of several primary sources in a particular research area and are not meant to provide the reader with the same detail as in primary sources. Examples of primary sources: journal articles, dissertations. Secondary sources: review articles (critique several studies, often “review” in the title), chapters in books, handbooks (books about general areas of a specific subject) and annual reviews.

Research is a process! Here are the steps.

Below are steps to conduct basic research using the model from the Society of College, National and University Libraries. As explained in The Information Literacy User's Guidethe model is called the "Seven Pillars of Information Literacy". If you need clarification on the process, you can refer to the sections in the open access textbook: The Information Literacy User's Guide. The page numbers are listed accordingly with each step.

Step 1: Identify: Understanding your information need

Textbook p. 8

Ask yourself what you already know about the research topic. Identify gaps in knowledge. Use background research to come up with a draft research question or topic phrases. 

Step 2: Scope: Knowing what is available

Textbook p. 16

Become familiar with your school and/or public library and the resources available to you. Ask for help from reference librarians. Know where to find the library catalog and databases.

Step 3: Plan: Developing research strategies

Textbook p. 28

Become familiar with library catalog and database features. Use synonyms to expand concepts. Create a Boolean search. Here is the strategy for a successful search: p. 44.

Sample search

Topic: climate change and policies


 "climate change" AND policies 


"global warming" AND laws

Step 4: Gather: Finding what you need

Textbook p.49

Find resources (articles, books, websites or data) for the assignment.  Look for academic sources. Do not use Wikipedia as a source.

Step 5: Evaluate:  Assessing your research process and findings

Textbook p.65

Use the CRAAP test as a guide to help you evaluate resources. (See section on the CRAAP method below.)

Step 6: Manage: Organizing information effectively and ethically

Textbook p. 91

Keep track of your sources to avoid unintentional plagiarism. Use index cards to record information about your sources. Use a citation management software like Easybib to help with citing sources.

Step 7: Present: Sharing what you have learned

Textbook p.91

The CRAAP Test

The list of questions below was developed by the Meriam Library at California State Library. Although some of the questions will apply when evaluating websites, most of the questions are useful when evaluating other sources (books, articles) as well. 


Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?

Authority: the source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author's qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? (examples: .com  - commercial, .edu - educational, .gov - U.S. government, .org - nonprofit organization, or .net  - network)

Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain, persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? opinion? propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Subject Librarian

Hedda Monaghan's picture
Hedda Monaghan
Henry Whittemore Library
(508) 626-4664

Why is Citing Your Sources Important?

  1. You provide evidence to back up your point in your research.
  2. You provide information to the reader to find the resource you mentioned in your paper.
  3. If you don't cite your source (or give credit to the resource you used), it is regarded as plagiarism.

How to Cite Your Sources

There are many resources available to help you cite. You need to know what citation format is required for the paper (is it MLA, APA, Chicago?) To help you with the format of the citation, you could use a free citation generator tool like EasyBib or look at any of these guides:

Using this Research Guide

The online research guide was created for a project to teach information literacy (with emphasis on library databases) to high school students. In a one-shot library instruction session (1.5 hours), the librarian will show the guide, demonstrate a search in a library database, and have the students work in groups. The expected outcomes are:

The expected outcomes are:

  • Students will be encouraged to ask librarians for help with their research assignments.
  • Students will be provided with an online research guide and learn how to use it.
  • Students will be able to refer to the guide to follow research process steps.
  • Students will conduct effective searches on library databases using keywords, Boolean terms, and controlled vocabulary/subject headings.
  • Students will be able to identify types of information listed in a database record.
  • Students will be able to use advanced search techniques like the use of quotation marks for phrase searching.
  • Students will be able to evaluate information based on criteria - the CRAAP method.
  • Students will be able to cite sources.

(ACRL Standards 2, 2.1, 2.4, 3, 3.2, 5, 5.3)

The focus of the library instruction session and research guide is searching for information in library databases. Other topics that can be included in another session include: plagiarism, learning how to use information ethically, forming research questions, web searching, evaluating websites, distinguishing between primary and secondary resources, searching for books in a catalog, and differentiating between scholarly and popular information.