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Introduction to Library Research

The purpose of this guide is to highlight various resources available at the UMass Lowell Library.

Deciding on a Topic and Search Terms

1. Think about a topic that interests you and that will hold your attention as you research and write your paper.

2. Do some quick background reading from a textbook, an article that reviews the literature written on that topic, an article your professor might recommend, or browse a general database for articles or ebooks.

3. Try to narrow your topic to something manageable. You may need to rework your ideas about your topic as you do the research based on what you find or don't find. Talk with your professor if you run into problems.

4. Once you have a topic, write it out as a short sentence or a question.

5. Identify the different concepts and develop a list of the keywords and synonyms

6. The next step is to choose the databases to search for the books and journals you'll need.

Choosing the Right Database(s)

1. Think about your topic in terms of what broad subject area(s) that it might fall under. (Psychology, History, etc.) Use the Databases by Subject page to see which indexes are available. Remember, you may need to search more than one index to find what you want or to get enough information. Also, look at the Research Guides to search for a guide on your topic/course.

2. All our databases have links to the specific journals we can make available to you. But don't miss out on good information just because an article is not full-text. Use Interlibrary Loan for articles you can't find at UMass Lowell

Before you start...

Do you know?

What an index, database or abstract is? 

What a citation is? 

What is meant by full-text?

database is a general term for any structured file of records that you can search. Our catalog is a database of records for our books, scores, music recordings, videos and DVDs, etc.

A journal index is a database of records for articles published in journals, magazines, and often newspapers. With most journal indexes there are brief summaries of the article called abstracts. All databases have search engines, that is, software that enables you to search and retrieve items. Searching a database gives you list of citations that describe the item.

journal citation contains the basic information needed to identify and find a journal article. This is the same information you will need in typing up the list of articles (references) you use to write your paper.


Secret History Of Lead. (use of leaded gasoline) Jamie Lincoln Kitman.
"The Nation" March 20, 2000 v.270 i 11 p 11

  • The title of the article : Secret History of Lead 
  • The author of the article : Jamie Lincoln Kitman 
  • The name of the journal : Nation 
  • The publication date: March 20, 2000 
  • The volume number: v.270 
  • The issue number: i11 
  • The page number: p11. 


Full-text is a term that means that the content of an article is available online, not just a citation. 

The Secret History Of Lead. (use of leaded gasoline). Jamie Lincoln Kitman.
The Nation March 20, 2000 v270 i11 p11.
       Linked HTML  Linked text with graphics

Full text can come in a variety of formats.  

  •  The Adobe Acrobat format provides you a picture of each page exactly as it appeared in the original paper format. If you are going to quote or footnote information from a specific page in an article, choose this format. The pagination is exactly the same regardless of what printer you use. 
  • Linked HTML gives you all the text of the article but unless indicated it may not include graphics or charts. Also, pagination not only differs from the original paper version but varies depending upon the font type and size of the printer used. 
  • Linked text with graphics  gives you both text and graphics but, again, pagination not only differs from the original paper version but varies depending upon the font type and size of the printer used. 

Consult the recommended style sheet to see how to reference online articles.