Search Using the COD Library

Practice searching for different types of information: books and periodical articles.

Search for books

COD Library Catalog
Search for and request materials held by the COD Library.

Search for articles

COD Article Databases

  • Provide indexing, abstracts, and full text for thousands of scholarly and general interest periodicals.
  • They covers all major fields of study in the humanities, social sciences, health, science, and technology.
  • Off-campus, these databases are available only to COD faculty, staff, and students.

Concept Mapping

Follow these steps to create your own concept map.
Allow yourself at least 30 minutes to complete this activity.

  1. Get several clean sheets of paper and several markers of different colors.
  2. In the center of a page, draw a small picture of your topic. This can be either abstract or representational and the purpose is to jump-start creative thinking.
  3. To generate ideas about your topic, start writing key words on spokes radiating out from the central picture. Write only single words (not phrases), and keep the lines connected to the central picture.
  4. Free-associate rapidly and DO NOT CENSOR any idea. Keep writing constantly, and try to fill the page as quickly as possible. (Start another page if necessary.)
  5. Use different colors whenever possible.
  6. When you run out of ideas about your central picture, start associating ideas from the words you've generated.
  7. After you run out of words, look at the results and try to find patterns and associations between ideas. Draw arrows and use colors and pictures to connect related ideas.
  8. Redraw your map. Eliminate any extraneous ideas and group related ideas into some kind of organization. You should now have several important concepts related to your topic. You might also have a rudimentary structure for how to present these ideas. You may be able to generate a series of questions that will need to be answered during your investigations.

If your results don't provide a suitable topic, then walk away for a while. Return later and select one of your new ideas/concepts and repeat the exercise. Here is a video demonstrating the use of a concept map to brainstorm topics.

Browse for a Topic

Where can you find potential research topics?

Your textbook. Textbooks introduce a topic to non-specialists and generally include a bibliography of books and articles consulted. A good chapter can provide an overview and the bibliography can point to more information.

Encyclopedias. A general encyclopedia covers the entire range of human knowledge in brief. A search for a basic concept recalls every mention of that concept in the encyclopedia, indicating different contexts for it and some of the fields of study that have explored it. Subject encyclopedias cover the knowledge base of a single discipline in brief. A search here can familiarize you with some of the different contexts within which your topic has been discussed in a discipline.

Academic Databases. Searching a simple term in a general periodical database like Academic OneFile retrieves articles from magazines and journals that include your topic. This will give you a chance to see what's being written on your topic in magazines like Time, Ms., or Scientific American, and journals like Communication Quarterly, Nature, or Harvard Law Review.

Current Event and Controversial Topic Collections. The Library has an excellent collection of online and print resources to help you discover topics related to current events and/or socially relevant topics.

Building a Search Question

Most databases don't understand the natural language we speak and need help understanding what we're looking for. For this, they require a special set of conventions, including:

Quotation marks Around exact phrases (e.g. "college of dupage")
Logical or Boolean operators Connecting words that narrow or broaden a search to include only what you need. Examples: OR, AND, NOT
Wildcards and truncation symbols
(* # ? !)
For terms that have variant forms of spelling or different possible endings. Examples: child* for child, children, childhood, childish, etc.
Nesting Placing terms in parentheses to indicate separate units. Like an equation, (A or B) not C

Databases and search engines apply these rules differently, so check HELP files to find out how to use them.

Click on the links below for a demonstration of each strategy. Select either an animated movie or a static image.
In order to: Use this strategy: See how it works:
Narrow your search AND




Broaden your search Wildcard

Wildcard and Truncation


Combine parts of your search Nesting


Broadening and Narrowing Vocabulary

Earlier we discussed narrowing and broadening a research question. Vocabulary can also be broadened or narrowed to find different types of sources. This chart suggests some alternative vocabulary for the following research question:

"Should Native Americans practice religious and social customs that violate local and Federal laws? "

Keyword(s) Broader Related Narrower
Native Americans Indigenous peoples, North American history Indians, Amerinds, North American Indians Makah, Nez Perce, Cherokee, Kwakiutl, etc.
Customs Social systems,
Marriage, social relations, spirituality, rites and ceremonies,
religion, culture
Lodge house(s), hunting, whaling, potlatch, etc.
Law Criminal justice,
U.S. Constitution,
constitutional law
treaty rights
Bureau of Indian Affairs,
NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act ),
cases (e.g. Kennewick Man, Neah Bay whaling)
Broader terms. What broad disciplines or subjects may address your research question?
Related terms. Synonyms and other terms that describe issues or activities that relate to your key concepts.
Narrower terms. Specific examples of your key concepts. These might be cases, events, names, places, etc.

Narrowing a Research Question

A question that is too broad may retrieve too much information. Here are some strategies for narrowing the scope of a question.
You can use these limiters individually or in combinations.

Limit Explanation Topic
Time Since 1990? This year? In the future? Current internet security initiatives.
Place Local social norms & values, economic & political systems, or languages. Internet security initiatives in the U.S
Population Gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, nationality, educational attainment, species, etc. Filtering software and children's access to internet pornography
Viewpoint Social, legal, medical, ethical, biological, psychological, economic, political, philosophical? A viewpoint allows you to focus on a single aspect. The constitutionality of internet filtering technology

Choosing Key Words & Concepts

Prepare for searching by identifying the central concepts in your research question.

Computers are programmed to match strings of characters and spaces and do not often understand the natural language we use with each other. They can't guess what you mean, don't "read" subtexts, and are easily confused by ambiguity, so clarify for them what you will be looking for. Focus only on essential concepts.

Tip to remember:
Many words have different meanings in different contexts. For example, Muhammad Ali was a boxer. The Boxer Rebellion took place in China.
Give the computer enough information to tell the difference


"media coverage of 9/11"  Media cover events. Unless the media caused the event, this term is unnecessary.
"advantages of home schooling over public schools" Value words like "favorite," "advantage," or "better" are not useful if you need to gather evidence to help you make a decision or develop a solution. Don't just grab an opinion or the "right" answer off someone else's shelf. 
"dissertations about bioethics"  Many databases and search engines are programmed to ignore common words that don't impact a search. These are called "stopwords" and typically include terms like "the," "from," "about," "when," etc.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information.
Unedited, firsthand access to words, images, or objects created by persons directly involved in an activity or event or speaking directly for a group. This is information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun, or repackaged. Depending upon the context, these may include paintings, interviews, works of fiction, research reports, sales receipts, speeches, letters, e-mails, and others.
Think of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony in a court trial.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources interpret, analyze or summarize.
Commentary upon, or analysis of, events, ideas, or primary sources. Because they are often written significantly after events by parties not directly involved but who have special expertise, they may provide historical context or critical perspectives.
Think of a lawyer's final summation or jury discussion in a court trial.

Popular and Scholarly Communication

Popular Communication
popular.pngPopular communication informs and entertains the general public.
Magazines like Time and Rolling Stone and books like Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain are examples of popular sources.

Scholarly Communication
Scholarly communication disseminates research and academic discussion among professionals within disciplines.scholarly.png
Journals such as Memory & Cognition and Journal of Abnormal Psychology are examples of scholarly sources.

In your research, you will likely have the opportunity to use both scholarly and popular sources.

View this short presentation to find out when to use a magazine and when to use a journal.

The Internet

The Internet is a computer network, in fact a network of computer networks, upon which anyone who has access to a host computer can publish their own documents. One of these networks is the World Wide Web (or just the Web) which allows Internet publishers to link to other documents on the network. The Internet allows transmission of a variety of file types, including non-written multimedia.

There are many kinds of Internet sites that you might find during the course of a search, sites created by different people or organizations with different objectives. Some of the more common ones are listed below:

Commercial The purpose of this type of website is to sell products or services. The Internet address often ends with .com (example).
Country codes Websites from other countries have a country code at the end. For example Great Britain is .uk and Canada is .ca (example).
Educational The purpose of this type of website is to provide information about an educational establishment. The Internet address ends in .edu. (example).
Entertainment The purpose of this type of website is to entertain and provide amusement. The Internet address often ends with .com (example).
Government The purpose of this type of website is to provide information produced by government agencies, offices, and departments. Usually, information provided by government websites is very reliable. The Internet address often ends with .gov (example).
Military The purpose of this type of website is to provide information about the military. The Internet address ends in .mil. (example).
News The purpose of this type of website is to provide information about current events. The Internet address often ends with .com (example).
Organizational The purpose of this type of website is to advocate an individual's opinion or a group's point of view. The Internet address often ends with .org (example).
Personal The purpose of this type of website is to provide information about an individual. The Internet address has a variety of endings (example).


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