Skip to Main Content

Education Research Tutorial

Step-by-step guide to conducting research in education

Starting your search

The library subscribes to over 200 databases.  Finding the right one for you is the first step.  If you know which database you want, start with the A-Z Database List.

With the A-Z list, you can search by subject 

  • Scrolling for education subjects in left box (example: Middle school students)
  • Typing in terms in the open box

  • You can search by specific subjects by clicking on the ALL Subjects search box or
  • You can type in keywords into the search box on the right i.e. elementary, higher education (these should be general, rather than very specific terms)

To find the best education database for your needs, first look over the possibilities.  There may be a "perfect" database for your topic--such as Career & Technical Education or Educational Administration Abstracts.  Library science students will want to search Library Literature and Information Science Full Text.

Two comprehensive education databases are useful for most education topics: Education Research Complete and ERIC.  Both will help you find articles from education journals; ERIC will also retrieve items such as research reports and papers presented at professional conferences.  

Boolean Operators

Most databases use a search technique based on Boolean logic. This type of search retrieves all records in the database which contain a word or a set of words and uses Boolean operators--words that have special meaning in database searching.  The most important operators are AND, OR and NOT. See below for an explanation of these terms. Some databases require the Boolean operators to be capitalized; otherwise, they may be searched just like regular search terms.


Will retrieve records which contain the word “girls” and the word “mathematics.” This operator is used to decrease the number of records retrieved. AND is the most common default Boolean term.

Example: girls AND mathematics


Will retrieve records which contain either the word “mathematics” or the word “arithmetic” -- or both. This operator is used to broaden the number of records retrieved.

Example: mathematics OR arithmetic 


Will retrieve records which contain only the term "charter schools" but not the word "urban." This operator is used to reduce the number of records retrieved.  Exercise caution when using NOT; you may eliminate helpful records--such as an article that is predominantly about rural charter schools but includes the term "urban."

Example: charter schools NOT urban


Use nesting to preserve the “logic” of your Boolean Search. Nesting is the use of parentheses to put your search words into sets. If you do not use parentheses, Boolean terms are connected according to the default functions of the database. Because it is difficult to keep track of differences in databases and because almost every database accepts parentheses, it is suggested that parentheses ALWAYS be used in a complicated search phrase.

(Huntingtons AND disease) OR chorea

Huntingtons AND (disease OR chorea)

((diabetes OR diabete) AND (hypertension OR (high blood pressure))) NOT therapy


Use truncation to find different forms of words in a Boolean or keyword search. Some databases use the asterisk, some use a dollar sign, and others use the question mark. The symbol may represent one character or multiple characters. It usually applies to word endings and may or may not apply at the beginning or middle of a word. Check the help function of the database you are using to learn the truncation symbol and rules. The most common truncation symbols are * and ?

Example: counsel*

Will retrieve counsel, counselor, counseling, counseled, etc.


Stopwords are commonly used words that occur frequently in records.  Stopwords may be ignored by a search or they may stop a search. Stop words are usually listed in a database's Help screens. Commonly used words rarely help refine your search results and should be avoided.

Some common stop words are: the, an, at, for, from, of, then.

Phrase Searching

Different databases treat phrases differently. Some automatically assume two adjacent words are a phrase. Others require the use of quotation marks or parentheses to search for a phrase. Databases that automatically assume two words are a phrase often ignore the quotation marks. Because it is difficult to keep track of differences in databases, it is often helpful to use quotation marks when you enter a phrase.

Example: "school choice"

An exact phrase finds the words in exactly the same order and will search for "school choice", not "choice school."

Failed Searches

When your search doesn't work out as you'd hoped, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did you misspell any words?
  • Did you select an appropriate database for your topic?
  • Did you try using synonyms--words with similar meaning?  Did you use too many ANDs? (They reduce results.)
  • Did you unnecesssarily add too many authors' names? 
  • Did you use punctuation to nest long, complicated searches? 
  • If you used truncation, did you use the correct symbol for the database? 
  • If you're looking for a particular title, did you try searching for words in the title (rather than the exact title)?
  • Did you fail to note system defaults (a default OR, for example)? Did you accidentally search for a title instead of a keyword?   


Some databases include an Index, a list of words used by all the records in a database. A database does not directly search its records but actually searches its Index for your word(s), which then tells the database which records contain those words. Some databases allow you to browse the Index directly. Th ERIC database contains several approaches to the index, including Educational Level, Journal Title, Language, and Author.  Using the Author Index is very helpful in locating variant forms of an author's name (such as Mark L. Smith, M. L. Smith, etc.)  Stopwords are not included in the database and therefore cannot be searched.

Peer Review

Peer-reviewed journals are also called “refereed” or “juried” journals. They are sometimes called "scholarly" or "academic" journals. The peer review process means that a manuscript is reviewed by others in the same field. These individuals (peers) read and review the manuscript, offering their comments and judgement as to its value. The process is intended to enhance the quality of the publications.

Finding Peer Reviewed Journals

  • Ask the librarian to help you find a professional journal in a particular field.
  • Use a discipline-specific index (Education Full Text, Applied Science and Technology, PsycInfo, etc.) While this strategy will help you find peer-reviewed journal articles, you should be aware that not all citations in such indexes are from peer-reviewed journals. 
  • Use special features of online databases. Many allow you to limit your search results to peer-reviewed journals.
  • Check the Serials Directory, available from the Databases A-Z List, to see if it characterizes the journal in question as “peer-reviewed.”
  • Check the “Instructions to Authors” section in the journal, where the editor explains the process used to decide whether an article is appropriate for a particular journal.
  • Look carefully at a journal issue and consider the characteristics listed below. If you are in doubt, consult with a librarian or your professor.

Characteristics of Peer Reviewed Journals

Peer-reviewed journals have characteristics that distinguish them from popular magazines. There is not always a clear-cut distinction between popular magazines and journals, however; some publications have qualities of both. Following is a comparison of peer-reviewed journals and popular magazines.

  • Journal articles are written by experts in the field. Often, popular magazine articles are written by a staff writer.
  • Journal articles are often intended for a person with knowledge in a specific discipline: a medical journal is written for doctors, a legal journal for attorneys, etc.
  • The author of a journal article is always listed—usually, along with his or her qualifications or brief information about the author.
  • Journal articles include a list of references. This allows you to see what the sources are and to check them if you wish, providing you with other possible resources.
  • Scholarly journals are often published by a professional organization or society.
  • Often, the word “journal” appears in the title. However, this is not always a good clue: Ladies Home Journal, for instance, is a popular magazine.
  • Often, a journal article is preceded by an abstract, or summary of the content.
  • Journals do not include advertisements; popular magazines do.
  • Titles of articles in journals are very revealing of content, not just clever or catchy, as is often the case with popular magazines.
  • Scholarly journal articles often report on research; they may include theoretical assumptions, methodology, hypotheses, results, and conclusions. Popular magazines may report conclusions as factual (without including all the details and research.)

Requesting Materials From Other Libraries

JCKL's Interlibrary Loan (JCKL ILL) is system where you can get books, articles and other materials that are not available at the Kirkpatrick Library. Log in using the link below.

After logging in, you can request materials, check on the status of your requests, verify due dates for materials and request renewals for items you currently have checked out.