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5 Research Tips Your Librarian Wished You Knew

Looking for research tips to make writing that essay a little easier? Libraries and librarians are great resources for student, no matter what the topic is. Every day they help students like you find the most relevant sources for the topic you’re researching for a project—skills that are essential for carrying on into college, grad school, and real life.

Here are the things that your librarian wished you knew about libraries, research and the tools they can provide.

  1. Avoid using questions when conducting a general search online or in a database

When using a database or search engine to find sources or ideas, try to be as specific as possible with your search criteria. Avoid generalizing, and don’t forget to include proper capitalization to ensure you get the most accurate results possible.

Question words like who, how, and what sometimes muddle the search rather than help. For example, instead of typing “what is an annotated bibliography,” you’ll have different, but more relevant search results if you typed “annotated bibliography definition.”

  1. Databases that would otherwise cost you a fee to access are often free at your library

Is there anything more frustrating than finding the perfect journal article, only to find that it lives behind a paywall? If you find an interesting article in a paid database, ask the reference librarian at your library. Chances are, they have access to the database (which means you do, too) or to a database with similar sources.

  1. Don’t forget to check subject headings when conducting your research

These are a systematic list of terms that describe a given subject matter. Subject headings can be one word, two or more words, a phrase, a city, a country, a geographic region or a person. For example, the following are all valid subject headings:

HOSPITALS 
ELECTROCHEMISTRY 
WOMEN IN MOTION PICTURES 

Subject headings are great for three reasons. First, they can help you quickly discern if a source is actually about the topic that you are researching or not. Second, you can use subject headings in an advanced search to help you find sources that are relevant to your project. Third, you can use them to discover other articles. For example, in a database, you can sometimes click the subject heading to see a listing of all title related to that subject heading. From there, you can do a little browsing and see if any other source interests or inspires you. 

  1. Libraries have more than just books

They can provide FREE access to the Internet, archival materials, audio recordings, films, databases, and so much more. They even often offer classes that may help you in your research or develop your reading and writing skills. (Bonus tip: learn how to do a works cited page.)

  1. When in doubt, ask your librarian!

Librarians are always willing to help provide research tips and point you in the right direction if you get stuck. It’s their job! Your librarian can also help you cite sources in APA, MLA or Chicago style.


When your research is complete, don’t forget to run your writing assignment through a plagiarism checker, like the one you can find right here on BibMe! This will help ensure that you didn’t miss a citation or accidentally pick up text from your research. You can also check your assignment for grammar errors like a misspelled pronoun, incorrect subject-verb agreement, an uncapitalized proper noun, and more!