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The Library Research Process, Step-by-Step

General help to get you started in the research process for your paper or project.


The University of Michigan Library subscribes to over 800 different databases. Try out your search phrases by browsing in the databases below. If you have questions about which database to use or how to find it, someone is always happy to help you on Ask a Librarian instant messaging.



Combined access to all ProQuest databases, covering many different fields and full text articles. 


Provides indexing for over 8,000 scholarly and general interest journals and newspapers, with full text articles included for over 4,200 of them.


 Access to over 80 databases provided by EBSCO, including PsycINFO, Historical Abstracts, America: History and Life, and many more.


PubMed comprises more than 23 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.


Provides full-text access to a wide range of news, business, legal, and reference information, including hundreds of U.S. and foreign newspapers, legal and business publications, wire services, broadcast media transcripts, and trade/news magazines.


Exploring Your Topic

Hatcher Library Reading Room










Once you decide on your topic, it's time to start exploring! The initial exploration of your topic, when you first begin searching, can lead to frustration again. You might start to doubt your choice of topic, especially if you are having trouble finding relevant search results. Just remember that this is the information-gathering stage and that it's all part of the learning and research process for your paper. The act of exploring your topic will help you refine and strengthen your argument.

There are many library tools to help you explore your topic.

  • Find library resources using the Library Web Site.  

  • Find books using Library Catalog Search. Look at the Description, Subjects, Table of Contents (if there) to give you a sense of the materials.  A work published by a University Press is usually a good source.

  • Find articles using Library Articles Search.  Try browsing the article abstracts to get a sense of key words and synonyms for words in your search string. 

Initial Search Strategies

It is helpful to do some initial searching in library databases, Google Scholar, or Library Articles Search (more on this later in the guide) when you're brainstorming, to see what is out there--are there many articles on your topic idea or just a few? How hard will it be to thoroughly research and write about this topic?

Whether you're using a library database or Google, taking advantage of certain search strategies will produce quicker, more relavant results.

  • To make sure you are searching a group of words, put quotation marks around a phrase
  • An asterisk (*), or truncator, at the end of a word will search for everything that begins with that group of letters in most databases, ex: comput* will return all words starting with four letters; computing, computer, compute, etc.  
  • You can also try a question mark (?) within a word to include multiple spellings. For example wom?n will find both woman and women.
  • Focus your search by using Boolean operators; AND, OR, AND NOT
  • Some databases allow you to perform proximity searches, for example the following phrase, movies w/3 drugs is searching for instances when the term movies is within 3 words of the term drugs.
  • Consider using synonyms for words, e.g. society = culture, community, civilization, etc.
  • Broaden your search. If you don't find an article on your topic don't assume it hasn't been written. You might just be using the wrong terms or might be searching too specifically to find it. Try broader terms.
  • Look carefully at the results from your search. If there is a great article, look at the subject headings. 

Refining Searches in ProQuest

Are you getting tens of thousands of search results in your database? Check out these tips to get the most relevant results.

Things to Think About

  1. What can class readings and discussions tell you about the topic?

  2. What are people saying about your topic?  What information is in the popular press?

  3. What are scholars saying about your topic?  What information is in scholarly journals?

  4. Who is writing this material?  What credentials do they have? Might they be biased?