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History of Human Services Project

Guides for students of Steph Crandall, for Connecting Past & Present class project.

Searching Intro

Searching for information is a part of the research process that you revisit many times. In the beginning you may need background information, or you may do a Google search and read a little bit from many different sources to give you ideas of what to focus on. Later you may search for specific statistics or details that would make your paper or project more compelling. No matter the context, here are some tips to help you along the way:

Begin your search with your research questions in mind:

We talked in the "Choosing a topic" page about developing research questions to guide your project. With a good research question you will know better what information you're looking for, which means you'll be able to come up with keywords for your search more easily, and you will recognize the right information when you see it.

Use a variety of different types of sources:

Just like a meal of only french fries would get boring, no matter how much you love them, using only one type of source makes for bland reading and a bland paper or project result. Source types to choose from include books, magazine articles, scholarly journal articles, videos, news articles, government reports, podcasts, and more. Each type has a different type of author with a different expertise, a different purpose, and a different way of sharing their information. 

Finding great sources: databases and Google search techniques

In this section, information on finding:

  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Academic sources
  • News articles
  • Government resources
  • Podcasts

Background information & encyclopedia articles

Early on in research, we often need some basic information so we can learn enough about a topic to get started. The Library subscribes to Credo Reference, a database with a huge collection of encyclopedia articles on many different topics. Give it a try!

Academic sources

Academic source might be journal articles, or might be books. They are materials written by experts in their field, with the purpose of informing other experts or students about their research or studies. They go in-depth on their topic, cite their sources, and refer to other researchers in the field. These Library databases are great ways to search for academic sources:

News sources

It can be frustrating trying to find high quality news articles online, at least without having to pay for subscriptions. The Library provides a few different ways to access high quality news sources.

Government sources

Government departments of all kinds have a couple of things in common:

  • They share extensive information, statistics, reports, and policies on their websites 
  • They have website domains that end in .gov

We can use this information to make accessing government information very quick and easy!

  1. First, use Google to enter the terms you want to search. For example, if you want to search for current policies related to nursing homes, simply enter: policies nursing homes.
  2. Second, add this to your Google search: site:gov. This string tells Google to search for your terms, but to only show results from sites with .gov in their domain name (the first part of the URL). See examples below.

Sample search of Google for policies nursing homes site:gov

Google search sample statistics poverty site:gov

More good terms to use in your search for government documents:
  • statistics, data
  • policies, regulations
  • historical
  • reports, research
  • images
  • health, labor, white house, etc.
  • Any word that describes what you're looking for, or words you imagine would appear in your ideal source of information.


To search for podcasts, simple add the word "podcast" to your  search. For example: hull house podcast (see screenshot below). Be sure to evaluate the presenter or guest expert just as you would any source. (See "Evaluating Source" section on this guide).

Screenshot of Google search for hull house podcast

Google Searching for Research

A little about Google search:

Google is so good at finding things we need (like that recipe for lemon bars or the weekend weather forecast), it's easy to forget that the search is not an all-knowing being handing out truth, but rather a program that runs a search algorithm created by imperfect humans. So when we use Google to search for information beyond the basics, we can get better (more relevant, more trustworthy) information by being aware of possible bias in search results, and by using a few specific search techniques. 

Bias in Google search results:

Many researchers have demonstrated biases in Google's search results. Some are intentional, for example:

  • Google favors results that are geographically nearby (like the nearest coffee shop)
  • Google favors results that are similar to pages you've already viewed in your search history
  • Google favors pages that are popular, meaning lots of other users have viewed the pages in their search history

Other demonstrated biases are not intentional, but reflect the many difference biases that are part of the larger mainstream American culture. These include:

  • Racial bias
  • Gender bias
  • Political bias
  • Very likely many others that have yet to be identified

To find out more about these biases and ways to address them, see the excellent guide, "Bias in Search Engines and Algorithms" by librarian Dominique Dozier of Santa Clara University Library. The main ways we can try to address bias as searchers are:

Use these basic principles of Google searching to get better results, more quickly:

Principle 1: Google's search is built to find the most popular websites containing the words in your search. These are often not the sites that contain the most accurate or academic information. Here are some ways to offset this tendency:
  • Be very specific about what type of information you want. Add words like: define, statistics, report, research, data, opinion, history, timeline, review, bibliography or peer review to your keywords.
  • Try doing a SITE SEARCH. You tell Google exactly what type of site domain you want results to be from. No single domain type is all reliable or all unreliable, however a site search can help you find a slice of the web that you might not normally see, simply because it's not heavily used.
    • Example: mumps statistics site:gov (This search finds the words "mumps" and "statistics" on the same page, and only shows results from websites with .gov at the end.)
    • Here are the major site domains online: .gov = U.S. government | .com = commercial/business | .edu = educational institution | .org = non-profit organization 
Principle 2: Google's search is built to find all the words you type into your search on the same webpage. This makes sense, however sometimes being extra specific about how you want Google to search makes your results much more relevant, without scrolling through dozens to get to what you want. Here are some ways to get precise about what you want Google to find:
  • Use QUOTATION MARKS when your keyword is actually a phrase of 2 or more words.
    • Example: "climate change" hurricanes report (This searches the words "climate change" as a phrase, plus "hurricanes" and "report", so in this case we are looking for an official report on any relationship between climate change and hurricanes.)
    • Example: origin quote "be the change you wish to see" (In this search we want to know the origin of the often-repeated phrase "be the change you wish to see". The quotation marks are very helpful because this quote includes many common words that could be ignored by Google's search algorithm.)
  • Use the EXCLUSION or MINUS sign to eliminate specific words from your results. This is helpful when you run your search and find many results are not relevant. Adding an exclusion word tells Google to eliminate any results with that word.
    • Example: jets -football (This search is looking for information on jet airplanes, and not Jets the football team.)
Principle 3: Google makes many adjustments to the search results it shows you first, based on its prediction of what you're likely to click on. Similar to Principle 1 and favoring popular sites, this isn't often helpful when looking for accurate information for academic work. Here are a few of the adjustments Google does automatically, and how you can take control of what you want to see.
  • PROBLEM: Google favors pages that are similar to sites you have clicked on in the past. The problem is that we might miss getting a wide variety of views or source types that we need when doing research. How to combat this? Use Google's VERBATIM search: 
    • After running your keyword search, click on "Tools", usually found underneath and to the right of the search box.
    • Then click the "All results" dropdown menu and select "Verbatim". This tells Google you want the search results based only on your keywords, without the skew of favoring sites similar to those you usually view. 
    • Note: this same VERBATIM search also works when Google wants to autocorrect a unique spelling or term that it thinks you've misspelled. 
  • PROBLEM: Google shows you websites most related to your search terms, but sometimes you need very recent information. What can you do? Use Google's Tools again:
    • After running your keyword search, click on "Tools", usually found underneath and to the right of the search box.
    • Then click "Any time" and select your preferred time period. The presets are: past hour, past 24 hours, past week, past month, and past year. You can also narrow to a period of time in the past with the "custom range" option.
Try out these search tips the next time you're searching for good sources online!

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