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LANG 3070 - English Communication for Humanities and Social Science Studies II: Seach Techniques

Useful Seach Techniques

The search techniques below can save you time and give you more relevant results than typing blindly into Google or other search tools.

1. Classic Scholarly method: Find References in Your Reading

When you do research, you will find things cited in papers & books you read.  You can then look those up and read them.

Example: I read a chapter in this e-book 

Ho, B.C. and Li. Q. (2013). Rural Chinese Women's Political Participation. In Z. Hao and S. Chen (Eds), Social Issues in China : Gender, Ethnicity, Labor, and the Environment (pp. 23-44.). Dordrecht, Netherlands, Springer. Retrieved from:

chapter example image showing words and highlighted reference

1. You decide to follow-up on the in-text citation as written in the article " In Tong's studies (2003) Chinese men fare better....".   So you go to the full reference below.

reference to: Tong, J. (2003). The gender gao ub political culture and participation in China. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 36(2) 131-150.

2. You then search for the article in PrimoCentral of PowerSearch - very generally - using the title

screen shot primo central search of gender gap political china - over 70,000 resuls


Results - 75,000, but the one you want is the top (thank goodness!). Then you read it. This may lead you  to more citations and useful resources.


A more efficient search would use advanced search with author = Tong + title= gender gap political china

screen shot of results of advanced search author is Tong and title words are gender gap political china


Citation Chaining - Modern Addition to Classic Method

The "classic method" allows you to search backwards.

Now modern tools also allow you to search forwards! You can learn more about Citation chaining in the Citation Chaining Guide & by watching the videos below

Citation chaining helps you quickly find related articles through citations. It is an essential technique to support your literature review process.

You can do backward and forward searching based on an article in hand.

◀◀  Backward searching

A "perfect" article you have in hand

Forward searching  ▶▶
  • finds articles the author used. These articles are usually called: 

"References", "Cited Articles", "Cited Documents"

  • helps you track classical and foundational studies
  • finds articles who used this article. These articles are usually called:

"Citing Articles", "Citing Documents"

  • helps you track latest development on your topic

"What is Citation Chaining" - Claremont Colleges Library (2 min 3 sec)

Citation Chaining - GoogleScholar - Seattle U

Citation Chaining - Web of Science - UNSW Canberra

Search Smart - Short videos on Search Techniques

Most databases do not support "natural language" searching. But, if you learn some |smart search" techniques, you will be able to target your searching better.. The image below is linked to several short videos to help you learn new and different search techniques.

thumbnails of several short HKUST Library made videos. clicking on this image will bring to the tags "search smart" on the e-learning server

Use Search Fields - "Advanced Search"

Most databases have them!  

Good place for easy field searching

Example in PowerSearch

screen shot advanced search gender and political participation and china OR chinese

Example in Proquest

screen shot of proquest advanced search in abstract for gender and oltical participation and chin OR chinese

Example in Social Science Citation Index

screen shot of web of science - social science advanced search gender and politial participation and china OR chinese


Notice how of the fields you can search relate to the information we use to make a citation? That's called "meta-data"

When is it OK to use a generative tool (AI)?

Check & Cross-check the Results

A common problem with many generative AI text tools is that they generate nonsense, especially made-up citations (references).

So, if you are using texts that you created using ChatGPT or other AI tools, use your eyes and your brain to check the work. Evaluate the information provided, just like anything you plan to use academically. More info on how to evaluate below:

1. Cross-check what it says & do "lateral reading"

  • Check against your own knowledge
  • Check against Wikipedia or Britannica
  • See if other reliable sources state the same thing
  • This is not new with generative AI, it's always been good scholarly practice

To learn more about lateral reading,  watch:

2. Confirm that any references it provides are real

3. If the references (citations) are real, check that they support the claim

  • This is *NOT* a new issue with AI tools, it's always been important to do so.
  • This is proper scholarly practice when working with sources both in print and online.

4. If you use ChatGPT or other AI tools in your work, you need to acknowledge it.


Some of this content was based on the work of Amy Scheelke of Salt Lake Community College, her LibGuide:

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