Working with Incomplete Information
- Figure out what you do know about the source. Academic sources are organized in some consistent ways: by author, subject, title, etc. You can use these pieces of information to find any source again. We call these important pieces of information access points.
- Some access points are more useful than others when you’re searching. Pay particular attention to:
- Subject words
- Publication date
- Choose a large database — as comprehensive as you can — and use the information you have to find the source again:
- Start with the most specific piece of information you have. For articles, that will be the article title.
- If the title doesn’t work (or if you don’t have it) try the author. If that search brings too many results, add some subject terms.
- If you have a publication date, most search tools will let you narrow to a specific date range.
That didn’t work! What now?
- Re-check your information. There are a few things that are easy to mix up:
- Articles: Make sure you have the article title, not the journal title.
- Articles: Make sure you have the name of the journal, newspaper or magazine, not the database where you found it. EBSCO, ProQuest, Lexis-Nexis and Web of Science are databases, not journals.
- Dates: Make sure you have the publication date, not the date it was uploaded or updated.
- Try these additional forms of information (there is more information about each of these in the guides listed on the left side of this page):
- DOI: The digital object identifier. If you see string of numbers and letters that start with DOI:10… you have a unique number that you can use to find your item.
- ISSN: This is a unique number assigned to a journal when it is created. You can use it to find the journal, and then search that specific journal to find your article.