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Working with Incomplete Information

Remote Research Help Appointments

Need help with your research? A reference librarian is like a tutor for finding and citing information. Schedule an online or phone appointment to get uninterrupted individual time with a librarian.

  1. 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.
  2. Some access points are more useful than others when you’re searching.  Pay particular attention to:
    • Subject words
    • Publication date
    • Publication
    • Author
    • Title
  3. Choose a large database — as comprehensive as you can — and use the information you have to find the source again:
  4. Start with the most specific piece of information you have. For articles, that will be the article title.
  5. 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.
  6. If you have a publication date, most search tools will let you narrow to a specific date range.

That didn’t work!  What now?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Ask a librarian.  Librarians are here to help track down the sources you need.