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JOUR 150: Media & Society: Search Strategies

Resources for finding news stories, evaluating news stories, practicing the art of journalism, and more.

Background Information

You often need to know a little more about a topic before you can begin asking good questions about it. Reference sources can help by giving you an overview of your topic.

* As you do your background research, write down significant names, dates, terminology, subtopics, place names, and organizations. Use these as search terms that can lead you to additional information. 

Library Databases

FAQ: The WCC Library's Subscription Databases

What is a library database?

  • They are online collections of information sources.

  • They are subscription services (just like Netflix or Amazon Prime), meaning that the library pays a fee to use them.

How many databases does Windward Community College have?

  • The WCC Library subscribes to over 70, and they’re listed and described on the Library’s Databases Page.

What do these databases have in them?

  • Some, like Ebook Central, have online books.

  • Some, like Academic Videos Online (AVON), have streaming videos.

  • Most have articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals.

Does a database have only one subject in it?

  • Yes and No. Many databases focus on a specific subject (MEDLINE on medical literature, AGRICOLA on agricultural topics), but some are broad, like Academic Search Complete, with articles on everything from accounting to zoology.

How should I choose a database for my topic?

  • Scan the library’s Databases descriptions when you start your research process to identify those that might be helpful and give them a try. 

  • A librarian would be happy to offer suggestions, too. 

How to Use Wikipedia for Academic Research

Types of Information Sources & Tools for Finding Them

Reference Works 

  • Are tools like dictionaries, manuals, & atlases that compile factual information; 

  • Are not read cover to cover, but referred to as needed; 

  • Can be found using:

Non-Fiction Books 

  • Often have in-depth information about their topic; 

  • Might be written by experts or by professional writers; 

  • Are published months or years after the events they cover;

  • Can be found using:

News Sources 

  • Have brief stories on current events and issues;

  • Are written by journalists; 

  • Are published minutes to days after the events they cover;

  • Can be found using:


  • Have brief to long articles; 

  • Are written by journalists or other professional writers;

  • Are written days to years after the events they cover;

  • Can be found using:

    • The Academic Search Complete database, which has articles from thousands of magazines covering a wide variety of subjects. 


  • Have longer articles; 

  • Are written by experts and often vetted by other experts;

  • Articles focus on extremely specific topics; 

  • Present original research & analyze multiple research studies;

  • Can be found using:

Notice that sometimes the title gives you clues about what kind of information a database contains (Hawaii Newspaper Index finds newspaper articles from Hawaii, yes?), and sometimes it doesn't (Academic Search Complete — just remember this is the library’s largest magazine & journal article database, but it doesn’t have much news or Hawaii-related stuff).

When in doubt ask a reference librarian for suggestions. They can save you a lot of time.

Making Educated Guesses

When you do research, you make educated guesses about where to find what you need because different kinds of information can be found in different places. You’ll make reasoned guesses about: 

  • the kind of information you’ll need to complete your research task,

  • the kind of source (newspaper, book, a person, a video, a journal, etc.) that will have that sort of information, 

  • and the keywords and tools (databases, search engines, indexes) that will let you find that information.   

Research Hack: Ask yourself who might already know what I want to know? Who creates the information I want? Who are the experts? Find them.  

Phase Searches Can Increase Relevancy of Results

Phrases Can Increase the Relevancy of the Results

Putting phrases in quotation marks ("") forces the search engine or database to find items that have those words in that exact order.

Think about it:

  • If you wanted to find an article about the plate lunch (like we mean it in Hawaii), would you want to use just the keywords, or a phrase?
    • A phrase search (with quotation marks) will find more articles that say things like, “The plate lunch... is a symbol of the courage and acceptance of different people in Hawaii displayed on a plate” (source).
    • A search without quotes might have results like, “Vegetables and fruits should cover more than half your lunch plate" (source).

Phrase searching is particularly useful when a keyword has more than one meaning.

  • Think about the advantage of searching for "polish government", or "car polish", or "polish sausage" instead of just polish.

The order of words can affect their meaning.

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