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The Research Process

This guide walks through some research strategies and points to resources, tools, and people that can help.

In This Section

Strategic Exploration

Research is nonlinear and iterative.

You'll often find yourself circling back to try new strategies or use different resources. 

It's important to try the catalog and a few different databases, plus a few different search terms--searching in different places and with different words will give you different results.


Where should I search?

How can I search it?

What will I find?


(Preus Library Catalog)

Search box on the library homepage
  • Reference works (both print and online)
  • Print books
  • E-books
  • Scholarly articles
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • DVDs
  • CDs
Databases Select a database from the All Databases list
  • Scholarly articles
  • Newspaper and magazine articles (both current and historical)
  • E-books
The Web Google, Duck Duck Go, etc.
  • Websites for companies, organizations, and groups
  • Newspaper and magazine articles (although you may hit paywalls)
  • Blogs
  • Social media
  • Government information
  • Digital collections of primary sources from libraries and museums
  • And more...
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A database is a collection of scholarly journals and articles that lets us search many potential sources at once. Databases can be general and cover many subjects, or be specific to one or several subjects.

Browse the All Databases list to see the databases Preus Library has access to.


Mix and match your keywords -- and your strategies.

Phrase Searching

Is your topic a string of words or phrases? To search for a phrase in which word order matters, put quotation marks (" ") around your search term.

For example: "social media" ; "higher education" ; "reality television"


AND, OR, NOT (Boolean)

Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT can help you combine and exclude terms from your searches.

  • AND is great when your topic has a few aspects that you're trying to research the connections between
    • For example, video games AND violence
  • OR is ideal for including synonyms or related terms in one search
    • For example, lions OR tigers
  • NOT is used when you want to exclude some terms from your results
    • For example, enterprise NOT star trek

Remember Venn Diagrams? They're a great way to visualize what the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT can do for your research.

boolean operators illustrated by venn diagram


One step further

You can combine phrase searching and more than one Boolean operator to make complex, specific searches.

  • (lions OR Tigers) AND poaching
  • "video games" AND (violence OR aggression)
  • "higher education" AND testing NOT gre


Subject Headings

Use the terms librarians use to classify and organize information! As you browse the catalog or a database and find a resource that looks promising, look for hyperlinked subjects, also called subject headings. In the catalog, you'll have to expand the View Description section to see these. An example of subjects from the catalog is shown in the image below.

subject heading example from the catalog

Clicking on one of these subjects will start another search that shows all results that are tagged with the same subject - it's a great way to find similar research to something you've identified as useful!

The Perfect Source? Not Likely

Research isn't about finding that one perfect source that makes all the connections for you.

It's about pulling together information that helps you formulate your ideas and make the argument yourself. This video (2 minutes) explains why finding one perfect source isn't feasible, and describes some ways you can be strategic about your searching.

Video posted on YouTube by North Carolina State University Libraries under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license.

Find Articles

Your professors may require you to use scholarly articles in your research projects.

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A scholarly article is written by an academic or professional researcher and is published in a scholarly journal. Scholarly articles can present original research or summarize existing research in that scholar's field.


Scholarly articles can be found in library databases. Preus Library provides access to databases that cover subjects across academic disciplines. Here are a few general databases that are great starting points, along with the catalog, for your research.

Find Books

Search the Catalog

The catalog is your gateway to all of the information that Preus Library provides access to. This includes physical books, journals, sheet music, and media, as well as e-books and articles from online databases.

If you only want books that Preus Library owns, use the Held By Library filter along the left side of your search results and check the box next to Luther College.

Search Preus Library and beyond

Limit results to:
Advanced Search

Head to the Stacks

When you find a book you want to read, you'll need the book's call number, so write it down or have it handy. A call number is basically a book's GPS location within the library. Books with call numbers that start with the letters A - L will be on the lower floor of the library; books with call numbers that start with the letters M - Z will be on the upper floor.

Here's what to look for in the catalog:

call number example, Preus Library Main Stacks QL737.P98 E47 1982

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TIP: Browse

The library is organized by subject, so if you're headed to the stacks for a book, be sure to scan the shelves around it too. You'll likely find more books on your topic!

Search the Web

generic search engineGet the most out of your search engine.

Google tips and tricks

  1. To search within a particular website or domain, use site:
    • ​​For example, site:edu or site:gov 
    • You can be more specific too, such as or
  2. Phrase searching works in Google, too.
    • For example, "higher education" or "test scores"
  3. Remember OR from above? That works in Google, too.


Burst your filter bubble

Filter bubbles cause us to browse the internet in a way that aligns with our beliefs and biases and narrows our point of view. Search engines and websites collect data on your habits so that they can show you information that you agree with and ads that will interest you.

So, how can we burst the bubble and see a wider variety of information?

  1. Try Chrome in Incognito Mode so Google doesn't show you personalized results
    • Click the vertical three dots in the upper right corner of your browser window and select "New incognito window"
  2. Try DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn't collect data on users or show personalized results


Fact check

Find a claim that you're not sure about? Fact-checking sites can help. Here are a few that are trustworthy:

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