Skip to main content

Search Strategies

Spiva Library

This page discusses five basic steps one should take when researching a topic in George A. Spiva Library.

  1. Identify keywords and/or Subject Headings that describe the topic.
  2. Search SWAN to locate books and other materials.
  3. Search article databases to find periodical (journal/magazine/newspaper) articles.
  4. Evaluate the materials found.
  5. Cite all sources. (See Citing Sources page.)

Identify keywords and/or Subject Headings that describe the topic.

Keywords and phrases are less exact than subject headings. There are many different words that could possibly be used to describe a concept. 

Example: Children, kids, youngsters, juveniles, adolescents, teenagers, boys and girls, and youth are words that could all be used to find items about young people. 

Subject Headings are “official” headings, provided by the Library of Congress, used to describe a concept. SWAN entries have linkable subject headings listed for easier location of materials on your topic. SWAN can be searched by Library of Congress Subject Headings as well as Title, Author, Keyword. In addition, located on bookstands at the end of the Reference stacks are print volumes of the Library of Congress Subject Headings. 

Example: The subject heading “Cats” refers only to domestic cats, whereas the subject heading “Felidae” will refer to items about panthers, lunx, and cheetahs. The subject headings “Mars (planet)” and “Mars (Roman deity)” refer to two very different subjects. 


Search SWAN to locate books and other materials.

It is often helpful to begin with a keyword search using terms identified in Step 1. Then follow Subject Heading links found in entries that are of interest. 

NOTE: Clicking one of the subject headings leads to more items that share the same subject.

Write down both the location and call number. These are needed to find an item in the library.


Search article databases to find periodical (journal/magazine/newspaper) articles.

Periodicals are continuous publications such as newspapers, magazines, or scholarly journals. They are usually issued on a regular basis, that is, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Search SWAN to find the call numbers and holdings of periodicals which Spiva Library carries. Use article databases - Academic Search Premier, Lexis-Nexis, CINAHL, etc.)to identify articles contained in the journals.  

Databases contain information about articles found in periodicals. Search for articles about the topic by keyword, subject, author, or title. The results of a search will show citation (the titles of articles, the author, the periodical where the article is found) and other information needed to locate the original article.

Many databases contain abstracts (summaries of articles). Some electronic databases contain the full text of the article that can be emailed, saved, or printed. 

Evaluate the materials found.

Not all materials found will provide appropriate or useful information. Many leads can be eliminated before actually locating the item. The following are questions to keep in mind when deciding if items found are of use for your topic.

Cite all sources.

Citation formats may vary. The most common formats are the MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, or Turabian style. Ask the professor for the preferred choice.

For basic information about the differing style formats, see the Citing Sources page.