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English 110

Discovery Search Tutorial

Finding Books and Articles for Your Paper

Identify the main concepts

The first step in developing a search strategy is to pull out the main concepts in your research question. Most of the time, this involves identifying the nouns.

Consider the following research question:

How much do television ads for medication impact patient prescription requests?

The key concepts are: television ads, medication, and patient prescription requests. It's not necessary to use impact, because it's not a core concept.

Here is another example:

How has the introduction of genetically modified crops in North America affected food production?

These key concepts are: genetically modified crops, North America, food production. North America is a geographical limiter that confines the question to a specific region.

Once you have identified the key concepts, the next step is to brainstorm additional keywords.

Brainstorming additional keywords

How have the introduction of genetically modified crops in North America affected food production?

For the research question above, the key concepts are bolded: genetically modified crops, North America, and Food production.

Because there are many words that describe the same concept, it's a good idea to come up with as many synonyms - or words that mean the same thing - so you can make sure your search is as comprehensive as possible.


Examples of additional synonyms:

Genetically modified crops

Genetically modified organisms

transgenic organisms

North America - because North America is made up of three countries, you can include any of them as part of your search.


United States


Food production


crop production

Now that you have some synonyms, you can start building your search...

Boolean Searching

Boolean searching uses operators to combine search terms to define very specific search parameters

The basic boolean operators are: AND, OR, NOT

Let's illustrate the concepts using the following research question:

Are ducks or eagles faster at flying?

AND Operator

AND requires both search terms to be present to return a result.

So if you were to search for both ducks AND eagles you would get results that discuss both of them.


OR Operator

Searching for ducks OR eagles will produce results with either term.

NOT operator

NOT excludes certain terms. If you are looking for ducks OR eagles, but don't want any results that have to do with the Anaheim ducks hockey team, you can use NOT.

Finding Books

You can do a simple search for books directly from the library homepage using the search box or you can click on Advanced Search to do an advanced search. Keep in mind that the library collection is small so you should only use one or two general terms to search for books.

If you want to write a paper on melting sea ice in the arctic, you could look for a book on climate change.

To find that book you would type Climate Change into the search box and click Search

Search Results

You will end up with search results that contain both articles and books. To restrict your results to books, click the checkbox next to Book Catalogue (see green arrow below).

The blue box below shows you where the information you need to find the book on the shelf is located. Location tells you which library has it, Call number tells you where it is on the shelf, and Status tells you which section of the library it's in and whether or not it's checked out. 


Discovery returns search results that contain both books and articles. To restrict your results to books, click on the checkbox next to Book Catalogue on the right. To find a book on the shelf, use the call number underneath the title of the book you want.

How to use a call number

Once you have the call number for the book you want for your research, you have all the information you need to find the book on the shelf.

Let's say you want to find this book on climate change:

Sample search result for a book. with the call number highlighted

The blue box in the image above highlights all the information you need to find the book on the shelf. Location tells you that the book is in the Castlegar Campus Library. Status tells you that it is in the General collection and Call No. points you to where it is on the shelf. Think of the Call Number as the book's street address.

This call number for this book is WB 700 R66 2016.

WB helps to locate the shelf that it's on.

These signs on the end of the row of shelves tell you the range of 2-letter call numbers that are found on this row. In this case, WB is found between UA and WS

The cap on the end of a row of library shelves shows the range of call numbers for the books shelved there.


The numbers after the 2-letter call number tell you where on the shelf the book is located. Notice that the Call number we are looking for (WB 700 R66 2016) is found with other books in the WB 700 range. R66 comes after E67 and before S73. 2016 is the year the book was published.

Close up of Call numbers on books. Books are shelved in alphanumeric order based on their call number

Finding articles in the research databases

Discovery will search most of the research databases that the library subscribes to at once, so it's a great place to begin your search for journal articles. You can do a simple search from the search box on the library homepage, but we are going to click on Advanced Search to give us more search options.


Finding articles in the research databases

Conducting a search

The advanced search page let's you search for multiple keywords or phrases and by default it connects them with AND, which means that it searches for items that include all of the keywords. It's best practice to search for each concept in a separate search bar. Putting too many keywords in one search bar can cause the search results to miss relevant articles.

After you click Search, you will get a page of search results. If you want to restrict your search to peer-reviewed articles, you can click the box next to Academic (Peer-reviewed) Articles (Green arrow in the image below). If you want to read the abstract of an article you can click on the title (blue arrow) to go to the article's record.


Anatomy of an article record

After you've clicked on the title of an article, you will see the record for that article which contains additional information including publication information for a complete citation, the abstract, and any assigned subject headings (Blue box).  The red arrow is pointing at the PDF icon which will allow you to read the complete article, or download it onto your computer. The green box highlights multiple tools you can use to keep the article to read later, including printing, email yourself a PDF with a complete citation, exporting to citation management software, copying the permalink, or getting a formatted citation that you can copy and paste into your references list. The citation tool is a good time saver, but it is not perfect so it is very important that you check the citation formatting carefully using a citation guide.

The record for an article includes all the information needed for a complete citation, the abstract, and any subject headings (blue box). You can also open the PDF to read the full article (red arrow), or email it to yourself (green box)


Limiting your search results

Search results can be limited by source type (green box) or by date (Blue box) using the tools on the left sidebar. Check the boxes besides the types of journals you want to search, and use the date slider to limit your articles to a specific date range. This can be useful if your instructor wants you to use articles that are recent.

The left sidebar of the search results allows you to limit your search results by source type (Green box) if you check the boxes beside the types of articles you want. You can also limit your results to a specific date range by using the slider (blue box).

Some research databases, like JSTOR and CBCA are not searched  using Discovery, so they have to be searched individually. JSTOR is most useful for those doing research in the humanities, and CBCA indexes Canadian newspapers, magazines, and university presses.

JSTOR logoCanadian Business and Current Affairs (CBCA)


Finding the research databases

From the library homepage, click on Databases.



JSTOR indexes articles on many subjects, but is particularly useful for the humanities. Each keyword can be entered in a separate search box (red arrow), and the results can be narrowed by item type (green box) and date range (blue box). 

JSTOR Search page. Results can be narrowed by item type and date.


Canadian Business and Current Affairs (CBCA)

CBCA indexes Canadian newpapers, magazines, and university presses. Search results can be narrowed by peer-reviewed articles or full-text (red arrow), as well as by date range (blue box).

CBCA indexes Canadian newspapers, magazines, and university presses. Search results can be narrowed by Peer-reviewed articles, full text availability, and date range.

Additional methods to help you search the databases efficiently:

  • Use quotations to indicate a phrase. If Food Production is one of your search terms the database will return results with both terms, but not necessarily next to each other or in the same order. "Food production" will tell the database to look for those two words in that order.
  • Use a * to search for multiple terms with the same root. Searching for child* will tell the database to return results including: child, children, childcare, childhood...


Developing a search strategy makes finding relevant articles for your research assignment more efficient.

  • Identify the key concepts from your research question
  • Brainstorm synonyms for each concept to generate additional keywords
  • Think about how you want to connect your keywords using AND/OR boolean operators

(Farming AND Genetically Modified Crops)
(Genetically Modified Crops OR Transgenic Organisms)

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