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How to find articles


The Library subscribes to different databases that enable you to identify and access articles published in journals, magazines and newspapers on a specific topic or by a particular author. Most of these articles are not freely available on the Web, and cannot be found using search engines such as Google. You may access the databases from library computers or from home where you will login with your Concordia netname and password OR ID Card barcode number and Library PIN.

Learn more about scholarly journals, magazines and trade publications using this chart from Western Carolina University.

If you are looking for a specific article for which you already have a citation or reference, go to step 6 below.


  • Give you access to a wider selection of quality articles published on your topic than you could find on the Web
  • Enable you to limit your search to scholarly or "peer-reviewed" articles (which are often required for assignments)
  • Provide a sophisticated search system (to help you formulate your search more precisely than you would be able to do using Google)

Finding articles with useful information is a process.

Although this guide presents a few basic steps that you may follow, keep in mind that research does not always evolve in a straight line. Often the information you find will bring new thoughts and ideas that will make you rethink your initial approach.

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Step 1 - Prepare

Think about your topic:

Scholarly articles usually focus on a very specific aspect of a topic. This makes it hard to write an assignment based on the information found in articles only. Before you begin looking for articles, consult an encyclopedia, a handbook, your textbook or another book until you have a general understanding of your topic and the key concepts surrounding it.

Think about the types of articles you need and where the most likely sources might be. Ask yourself:

  • Who would you expect to be writing about the topic? Where would you expect relevant articles on your topic to be published? In newspapers? Magazines? Academic journals in a particular discipline?
  • How current do the articles need to be?
  • Do you just need a few articles or do you need to be very thorough?

Once you have considered these questions, you are ready to look for the databases that might meet your needs. Some databases:

  • Are multidisciplinary and index major journals from all subject areas - often a good starting point. An example of a multidisciplinary database is Academic Search Complete.
  • Attempt to be as comprehensive as possible for one subject area. For example, PsycINFO attempts to cover the world's literature in psychology.
  • Index scholarly journals while others index an entire range of publications. Most databases that index both academic and non-academic publications have a feature that allows you to limit your search to one type or the other.
  • Are updated daily, others monthly, quarterly or even less often. When choosing a database, be sure to check the time period covered and the frequency of updates.
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Step 2 - Select a database

Sometimes your topic will be well covered in one database. However, no single database includes everything on a topic, so be prepared to search through several.

Starting points:

  • Browse the list of databases using the Concordia Library Database Finder
  • Consult the Subject Guides section of the Library Web site
  • Read the description of each database (click on the "more info" link located next to each entry within the Concordia Library Database Finder). The description identifies subject areas included, types of publications indexed and date covered.
  • Ask for assistance. Librarians can help you to choose appropriate databases for your topic. Consult with them in person, or via the Libraries' online Ask a Librarian service
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Step 3 - Decide on your search strategy

  • Identify the key concepts of your topic (often two or three main ideas that stand out).
  • For each concept, think of keywords and synonyms.
  • You may want to consider using standardized terms (often referred to as "subject headings" or "descriptors" in databases). In many databases, articles are assigned a standardized term and once you find the correct term you will be able to quickly find many articles on your topic.
    This may be helpful when searching for a concept that can be expressed in more than one way. For example, to help you find information on all kinds of "beauty products" such as cosmetic, deodorants, sunscreens, toothpastes, the business database ABI/INFORM uses the phrase "health & beauty aids".
    To find a list of standard subject terms used in a database, look for the thesaurus or subject terms feature.
  • Think about how you will combine your search terms in a way the database will understand. For example, to find articles about violence on television, in most databases, you need to combine your keywords using AND or OR

violence AND television

When you use AND between two keywords, the articles retrieved must contain both words

violence AND (television OR media)

When you use OR between two keywords, the articles retrieved must contain at least one of the words. When using AND and OR in one search statement, always use parentheses to group synonyms.

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Step 4 - Evaluate results

Read the summaries (or abstracts) of the articles your search retrieved. Take time to critically analyze and evaluate those you are planning to use to see how well each contributes to the aims of your research assignment. When you browse your results, pay attention to the vocabulary used in the subject heading or descriptor fields; these will provide you with alternative or additional terms to use should you need to focus or expand your search.

Refine your search strategy

Did you retrieve too many articles?

  • You may need to focus your search by adding another concept (keyword):
    For example, instead of violence AND television use violence AND television AND children

  • You may need to search within specific segments of the database, such as SUBJECT HEADINGS or COMPANY NAME, as opposed to using the default search setup, which is usually by keyword

  • Check the limit features of the database; perhaps you need to limit your results by date of publication, language or type of publication

Did you retrieve only a few articles?

  • You may need to broaden it by using more words to describe one concept:
    For example, (violen* OR rage OR abusive behaviour OR battering) AND television

  • Note that the truncation symbol (most often an asterisk *) retrieves variations of the same word:
    For example, use violen* instead of violent OR violence

Consider different databases

You may find that, although you used the right words, the articles retrieved are not appropriate for your research. For example, instead of retrieving articles that discuss the social aspects of TV violence on children, you retrieved articles on how TV violence can affect the consumer behaviour of children. Before adding additional concepts to refine your search, verify that the database you selected is appropriate for your subject area.

Reconsider your topic

Sometimes, there just is not enough information on your topic and you may want to consider changing or modifying it. Before you do so, consult with a librarian. A librarian may help you develop a more suitable strategy for your research.

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Step 5 - Record relevant information

Most databases have a feature that allows you to select articles you consider important. Look for a "mark" or "add" to folder feature. You can usually print, e-mail or save your list, and/or the articles themselves.

If you just want to write down what you need to locate a specific article in the library, you will need to record the title of the journal, volume, issue, date, and page number where your article is published. It is advisable to record the name of the author and the title of the article as well.

Zotero is an online bibliographic tool that can be used to store, organize and manage citations or references that you find in the Sofia Discovery tool and in many article databases. When using databases, you can save your results and export them to a personal Zotero account that you create.

Save time and avoid frustration by using Zotero to prepare bibliographies for your assignments according to a variety of citation styles such as APA, MLA, Chicago and many more.

Learn more about Zotero.

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Step 6 - Locate articles you selected

Does the library have the article you need? Is it available online?

In many databases, you will be able to view the complete text of an article by following the link that appears together with the citation. The link may be marked as "PDF full text" or "HTML full text".

When there are no direct links to the complete article in the database, look for the "Find it! @ Concordia" button, which can save you a lot of time. "Find it! @ Concordia" will try to locate an electronic copy of the article you are looking for.

However, if you do not find a match for your article, you can check the Sofia Discovery tool, to determine if the Library has the particular volume and issue of the journal in which the article is published (either in electronic or in print format).

For example, you have the following citation:

Nogué, J., & Villanova, J. L. (2002). Spanish colonialism in Morocco and the Sociedad Geográfica de Madrid, 1876-1956. Journal of Historical Geography, 28(1), 1-20.

On the Advanced Search screen, select the Title Search Index, and enter the name of the journal. At the bottom of the Advanced Search screen, in the Format drop-down menu, select Journal/Magazine. Journals may be in print or electronic format. Make sure to look at the subscription years to see if they cover the years for which your article was published.

If you have a citation for an article, another option to see if it is available online is to use the article search in the Sofia Discovery tool.

What if the article is not available at Concordia?

  • Try searching Google or Google Scholar by using the significant words or a phrase from the title of the article combined with the last name of the author. You may also try searching for the title of the journal using quotations. This will often lead to the publisher's Web site. Browse the site to see if the article you need is freely available. Some publishers allow access to older articles without subscription.
  • You can also submit an interlibrary loan request using Sofia.
  • If you prefer to go to another library that has a printed version of your article and photocopy it yourself, a list of local libraries with links to their catalogues is available on the Library Web site.
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