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CEE 700 Research Methods (James): Efficient and Effective Searching

Resources for students in CEE 700

Where to search

Search Techniques

Each database or search tool has a different set of items contained within it, and you will want to consider what words the author may have used (e.g. air pollution, or air quality?) 


Use quotation marks around a specific phrase to search for exactly "state implementation plan" documents, as an example.

Often you can use Boolean search commands to modify your search. 

For instance, "state implementation plan" AND "Maricopa County"  would narrow your search to materials with both of those exact phrases, and likely not include other area implementation plan results. 

Using OR is a way to search for synonyms simultaneously for instance:  spectacles OR eyeglasses  

Using NOT (or in google search tools, the minus sign - ) excludes results that include the keywords that follow. For instance, clean water NOT Flint    would exclude the many recent information sources about Flint, Michigan, and allow you to more easily see other areas and issues related to that topic.


Once you have your search results on screen, if the number of results is overwhelming, look for ways to limit the year or source type in your search results to clear away additional items. 


You may also want to broaden your search to include items UNLV doesn't own - we can usually get you a copy.  Look for options to "Expand" "Add results beyond your library" "get full text" or "UNLV find text".  Try these options and see if you find useful items, and request the ones you like through interlibrary loan. In some cases, the full text of certain items may take a couple of days to reach you through an email request to an agency, or through an interlibrary loan request.  Don't delay (the interlibrary loan service is free to you as a UNLV student), and ask a librarian for help if you can't find the full text of something!

Keeping track of your search

You might find the above handout a useful way to create and document a strategic approach to your literature searches. 

In addition to taking notes on your search strategies and the outcomes, you may want to set up search alerts within the library databases or other search tools so that the software continues to work for you. Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science, Inspec and other library database scan track new publications by authors or by keywords and send you email updates. 

Evaluating Information Sources

Here is a short video about how to consider the quality and usefulness of what you find.  While it is geared to an undergraduate student audience, you might find it a fun reminder of what to consider when you discover different information formats and sources.  You may also find it useful to share with your students if you have a teaching or mentoring role during your graduate studies at UNLV.

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