Absence of balance

When an article presents only one side of a story, event, or issue without considering other viewpoints which are relevant to the topic.


A brief summary provided at the beginning of an article, book, or other published material. Abstracts help you decide whether you want to read the full item.

Algorithmic bias

How data is gathered, used, or manipulated within an algorithm often reflects the biases of that algorithm’s creators and users.

Article indexes and databases

Finding tools that help you find scholarly materials such as journal articles, book chapters, and more.


A comprehensive list of citations at the end of a project. Sometimes called “references” or “works cited.”

Boolean operators

Operators which help you broaden or narrow your search, depending on which operator you use. AND, OR, and NOT are the three major Boolean operators.


A way of displaying the elements (e.g. author, date, title) that uniquely identify a source. Citations are primarily found in the works cited or reference section of a paper or book.

Citation chaining

The process of tracking down items connected to a single paper by using citations to follow a line of research backward or forward in time. For example, you may look at the older items cited by your original source, or you may look for newer items that cite and build upon your original source.

Common knowledge

Factual information that can easily be verified in multiple authoritative sources.


The section of a scholarly source which usually includes information about major findings and why the author thinks their findings are important.

Conflicts of interest

When an entity or individual becomes unreliable because of a clash between personal (or self-serving) interests and professional duties or responsibilities.

Controlled vocabulary

A preset list of specific terms used as subjects within a finding tool. For example: Hybrid electric cars or Clothing trade–corrupt practices


Laws to protect the works and the rights of authors, which determine how or if someone else’s protected work can be legally copied, shared, performed, reused, or modified.

Copyright infringement

The copying or distributing of someone else's copyrighted material without their permission.

Creative Commons licenses

A type of copyright license that lets the creator specify clearly the ways others can reuse their work. Each of the six CC licenses allows a different set of reuse permissions.

Document Delivery

A free service for getting electronic access to articles and book chapters the library already owns in print (not full-length books).

Fair use

Specific legal exceptions that let you use copyrighted material without having to ask for permission or pay any fees. These include the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work being used, the amount and substantiality of the work being used, and the use’s effect upon the original work’s value.

False balance

When authors give equal coverage to perspectives that are not equally supported by facts, in an effort to appear balanced.

Field searching

A search technique that lets you search for information that you know will be in a specific field of an item record, such as the title or author. For example, you might limit a search for books by Albert Einstein by using the Author/creator field.


The process of narrowing your search results by applying modifiers to your existing search. For example, filtering by items published over the last 2 years.

Finding tool

A tool that provides structure for a search. In our book, the three main categories of finding tools are web search engines, library discovery tools, and article indexes.

Flawed sourcing

When an article reports information without supporting it with context and references (i.e. citations). This type of bias typically occurs due to a lack of good research practice.


The way an author manipulates the context around an argument to promote their own interpretation.

Full text available

When a full item, not just a snippet or excerpt of an item, is available to access in a digital format.

General purpose article indexes

Article indexes and databases that cover many different subject areas and often include articles from magazines and newspapers as well as from scholarly journals.

Google Scholar

A web search engine that typically excludes non-scholarly web content and instead focuses on finding scholarly materials online.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL)

A free service for getting electronic access to articles and book chapters that the ISU Library does not own, or for borrowing physical copies of books from other libraries. ISU's ILL service is sometimes called ILLiad.

Lateral reading

Going beyond your original source to explore how the same topic is discussed by others. For example, reading multiple sources and examining how they support or contradict your original source.

Library discovery tool

Finding tools that combine the traditional library catalog (showing you what a library owns) with a collection of links to many journal articles and other online resources a library subscribes to.


A license is a statement or contract that allows you to reuse a copyrighted work in specific circumstances.


The section of a scholarly source which explains how the author(s) conducted their research, including how they gathered their data (e.g. surveys, interviews, experiments, or observations) and why they chose that method.


A search technique which lets you group similar concepts or keywords together within parentheses so you don’t have to perform multiple searches. For example: heavy AND metal NOT music

Open access

Materials that do not require a subscription or login to access. Some scholarly journal articles are open access, and can be read by anyone!

Open web

The portion of the internet that is "open." Everything you can access online without logging in or paying fees.


A system that limits access to content. This barrier might require that users log in, pay a fee, or show proof of membership to an organization, like our university.

Peer review

A rigorous review process completed by subject experts before the publication of a scholarly source.

Phrase searching

When you take a specific phrase and enter it into the search box using quotations around it. For example: "solar energy"


Using someone else’s words, ideas, or other creative works without giving them credit. This is a form of intellectual theft and an ethical violation.

Popular information

Information found within publications written for the general public rather than for scholarly audiences.

Primary source

Sources that discuss an event and were created around the same time the event happened. Common types of primary sources include newspaper articles, diaries, photographs, and videos. In the sciences, primary sources may also refer to publications describing original scientific exploration when they are written by the people who did the research.

Public domain

Works that are not protected by copyright are in the public domain. These works can be reused and shared without permission from the copyright holder, but you still need to cite the creator to avoid plagiarism.

Quick Search

Iowa State University's library discovery tool, Quick Search is the main search box on the library homepage.


The process of finding and using authoritative resources for your project.


The section of a scholarly source which provides more specific details about what the authors found through their research. This section is sometimes called the discussion section.

Scholarly information

Information found within publications written by and for scholars. Scholarly sources often undergo peer review and contain subject-specific, technical language.

Secondary source

Sources that analyze an event or previous research after the fact, often putting that event into historical context or comparing it with other resources, issues, trends, or movements.


An acronym developed by Mike Caulfield (2019) that describes four steps you can use to evaluate sources. The four steps included in SIFT are: Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace information back to the source.

Sponsored links

Advertisements that appear at the top of your search results because someone has paid to have their website featured.

Style manuals

Guides that help you write particular types of papers (research reports, technical reports, and theses). In addition to helping structure your paper according to subject-specific rules, style manuals also help you structure your citations properly through footnotes and reference lists.

Subject searching

A type of field searching that uses controlled vocabulary to help researchers find resources about their desired topic, even if different authors use different terms when referring to that topic.

Subject-focused article indexes

Article indexes and databases that cover one subject in depth. Subject-focused indexes often offer discipline-specific tools to help you search, sort, and focus your results.


A tool that identifies the specific subject terms an index or database uses. For more information, see Field Searching.


When you use an asterisk (*) to search for multiple endings for a word’s base, or “trunk.”. For example: electric*

Web search engines

Finding tools that search the internet broadly using the keywords you provide.


A database that searches the catalogs of thousands of libraries across the world.


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Library 160: Introduction to College-Level Research Copyright © 2021 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.