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US 101: First Year Seminar

This guide will help you complete your research assignment for US 101.

Video: CatSearch Basics in less than 60 seconds

The steps outlined in this video are included in text as well, in place of closed captions or a transcript, because there are no spoken words in the video.

  1. Enter keywords in the CatSearch box on the library homepage.
  2. On the search results page, use the filters on the right to limit your search. 

Library Databases

Articles & Research Databases: the library also has many databases, including those that are discipline or subject specific, that can help you find articles and other resources. 

Finding Full-Text Articles

There are different ways to access the full text of an article. Image guide of using CatSearch.

  • Library Homepage (CatSearch)
    • Enter your search terms.
    • The search results will contain a full text available link if the article is located in one of our databases.
    • Click the link in order to open the article.
    • If we do not have the article, then a "Request It!" link will show in the CatSearch record so you can request the article through interlibrary loan (ILL).


  • Individual Databases
    • Enter your search terms.
    • The search results will include a full text link to either an HTML or PDF document if the full text is available.
    • If the text is not available in that database, a "Check MSU Availability" link will let you search the other databases for that article.
    • If we do not have the article, then a "Request It!" link will show in the CatSearch record so you can request the article through interlibrary loan (ILL).

Identifying Keywords

Unlike Google and other web searches, databases work best when you enter keywords instead of full phrases or questions.

Keywords represent the main ideas and concepts in your research topic. Things to remember:

  • Each database can organize the main concepts of your research under different subjects or headings.
  • It is important to brainstorm different words authors may use for your topic.
  • Having alternate search options can keep you from getting stuck when doing research.

Identifying main concepts within your research question/topic.

Research Question: How do high school seniors prepare to take the standardized tests?

Main Concepts: high school seniors, prepare, standardized tests (words like how, do, and, to, etc. are not important)

There are a few types of keywords that you can work with, depending on your topic.

  • Narrow - can you use a more focused word or idea? (ex. SAT instead of Standardized Test)
  • Broad - what is the big picture idea behind your topic? (ex. Education)
  • Related - are there concepts that closely relate to your topic? (ex. ACT, GRE, MCAT)
  • Similar - are there synonyms for your topic/concepts? (ex. assessment, test, exam)

Searching Databases

How do I use the keywords I come up with in the databases?

Keywords can be combined in different combinations within the database to form "search strings" using connecting words like "AND" and "OR". Different keyword combinations will work better depending on the database, so having a list will help you from getting stuck.

  • Using "AND" will narrow your search by only giving you results that include all the words in your search string.
    • Example: SAT "AND" high school seniors would only return results with both keywords in the title, abstract, and subject headings.
  • Using "OR" will broaden your search by giving you search results each search term and the shared results.
    • Example: SAT "OR" Standardized tests will return results including SAT or standardized tests and results that use both terms​

TIP: Use "AND" to connect different concepts from your research question and "OR" to connect keywords for the same concept.

Visualization for how using "and" and "or" to connect keywords changes your search results.

Here's a quick example of a search using keywords connected with AND and OR in one of the databases.

Evaluating Sources

Video: Evaluating Sources (3:47) 

This video will help you critically evaluate sources using these five criteria: authority, accuracy, currency, relevance, and objectivity.

Tutorial: Evaluating Information

For more in-depth evaluation instruction, complete this online tutorial.