Skip to Main Content
Research Guides Homepage

Academic Search Complete

Common Terms in Research



  • Abstract - A summary or description of an article. The SanJac databases have abstracts for most, but not all, articles. An abstract is usually less than 200 words in length, so reading the abstract first is a good way to tell if the article may be relevant to your research.


  • APA - American Psychological Association. A citation style usually used in the social sciences to format papers and references. The citation style is oulined in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, now in its 6th edition. See the "Works Cited Lists" tab for more information on citing in APA format. 


  • Article - A nonfiction contribution to a newspaper, magazine, or journal. Articles can be published in a printed hard copy, on a website, in a library subscription database, or in more than one of these formats. Not everything published in a newspaper, magazine, or journal is considered an article: reviews, editorials, and letters to the editor are not considered articles. 


  • Bibliography - A list of books, articles, or other sources on a particular subject. Bibliographies may be found at the end of books, articles, or research papers, and are similar to a Works Cited list (bibliographies list all sources consulted, while a Works Cited list only lists sources that were quoted or paraphrased in the paper). A bibliography may also be a separate book or article listing all sources on a particular topic (for example, the book Exploring the Afro-Texas Experience: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources about Black Texans or the Bibliography of Native North Americans database).  


  • Book Review- An evaluation of a book, usually written by a professional reviewer or expert on the book's subject matter, and published in a journal or newspaper. The databases contain book reviews published in scholarly journals, so you may come across them during your research. However, book reviews are not considered research articles, so if you are required to use articles from scholarly sources, you should not use a book review. Book reviews are clearly marked in the database:


  • Boolean - Named after its inventor, George Boole, you might also here this called Boolean logic or Boolean searching. Boolean searching refers to a way of combining keyword search terms using the words and, or, and not (these words are called "operators"). Depending on the operator you choose, the characteristics of your search results will change and your pool of results will be broader or narrower. The databases do not work like natural language search engines like Google: in order to search them effectively, you should use keywords and Boolean searching. For more information, see the "How to Search: Keywords and Boolean" tab in this guide.


  • Citation - Sometimes called a bibliographic citation, a citation is information which identifies a book, journal article, electronic source, or any other source. Depending on the citation style (MLA, APA, Chicago), the format of a citation may vary, but normally includes author, title, publisher, and format (print, online) information. Citations are the individual pieces that make up a bibliography or Works Cited list. A citation is also a reference to an article or book in an online database, when the full text is not available. For more information on citations vs. full text, see the "Limit to Full Text" page. For more information on creating citations for your Works Cited list, see the "Works Cited Lists" tab. 


  • Controlled Vocabulary - Librarians organize and classify information according to a controlled vocabulary. This means that  the same term is used consistently to describe the same thing. For example, a controlled vocabulary might require you to always describe books about dogs with the word canines, rather than using the words dogs, Golden retrievers, puppies, etc. If you don't know the right controlled vocabulary term, you might not be getting a complete list of search results back. See the 'Subject Term Search' tab for more information. 


  • Database - Any collection of records that may be electronically searched in multiple ways. In libraries, these are most often online catalogs or collections of articles and citations. SanJac provides access to over 60 databases; the biggest and most comprehensive is Academic Search Complete. For more information on what a database is, see the "What is ASC?" tab.


  • Field - In a database, records that describe books and articles are divided up into separate parts, called fields. A field in a database record tells you one piece of information about the book or article, such as the author's name or the publication name or the title of the article. In most databases you can refine your search by instructing the database to search for information in a particular field (for example, you could tell the database to look for your search term in the article title, abstract, or entire text of the article). For more information on using field limiters in the database, see the 'Basic vs. Advanced Searching' page underneath the 'Advanced Search Tips' tab. 


  • Full-Text - Articles that are available online in their entirety, either in a database or on the web, and usually in PDF or HTML format. Some websites and databases offer only a citation for the article (see 'citation' definition, above). In order to cite an article for your research though, you will need to read the entire article in full text. If you cannot find the full text of an article online or in a database, contact a librarian to request the full text through interlibrary loan.


  • Index - A list of subjects, names, titles, etc. that helps you to locate information. You are probably familiar with a book index,  a list at the end of a book which gives page numbers where names and subjects can be found in the book. A database that only contains citations, without  full-text articles, may also be referred to as an index (like the Biography and Genealogy Master Index).  


  • Interlibrary Loan (ILL) - The program through which libraries share materials with other libraries around the country. If you cannot locate a book or full-text article owned by SanJac, contact a librarian to place an ILL request. Books usually take 1-4 weeks to arrive, while articles usually take 1-14 days to arrive.


  • Journal - A periodical that publishes scholarly information, usually articles that describe the results of an original study or experiment and include a list of citations to other scholarly sources. Articles are written by academics, researchers, or experts in a subject area, and are usually geared toward researchers and professionals, not the general public. If the journal is designated as "peer-reviewed," articles will be reviewed by other experts in the topic before being approved for publication. Journals are sometimes referred to as scholarly journals, academic journals, refereed journals, or scientific journals, and your instructor may require that you use them for your research. For more information, see the 'Limit to Scholarly Journals' page.  


  • Keyword - The most significant words to describe your research topic. Keywords are used as terms when searching databases, since the databases can't handle entire search phrases the way Google or Yahoo can. For more information, see the "How to Search: Keywords and Boolean" tab.


  • Limiter - Setting limiters is a way to filter your search results to show only those sources that fit your requirements. For example, you can limit your results to articles published in a certain publication, or articles published within the last two years. For more information, see any of the pages underneath the "Advanced Search Limiters" page. 


  • Magazine - A periodical that publishes news stories or articles on various subjects, usually written for a general audience with the goal of selling as many copies as possible. Time and People are two popular magazines. Magazines are usually published weekly or monthly.


  • MLA - A citation style usually used in the humanities to format papers and references. The citation style is oulined in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, now in its 7th edition. See the "Works Cited Lists" tab for more information on citing in MLA format.


  • Newspaper - A periodical that reports on current events, usually written for a general audience. The New York Times and Houston Chronicle are examples of newspapers. Newspapers are usually published every day, though there are some weekly newspapers. 


  • Peer-review - The process that scholarly journals employ before an article can be published. When an article is submitted to a journal, experts in the same academic field as the article's author make up an editorial board that reviews all articles before they are accepted for publication. Your instructor may require you to use scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. For more information, see the 'Limit to Scholarly Journals' page.


  • Periodical - A source that is published on a regular basis, such as journals (every 1-2 months), magazines (weekly or monthly), and newspapers (daily or weekly). A periodical stands in contrast to a book, which is published just once. The databases are the best places to look for periodical articles, while the online library catalog is the best place to look for books. 


  • Plagiarism - The act of using the work or ideas of others and presenting it as one's own, whether intentional or unintentional. Plagiarism is a very serious offense at SanJac and other institutions. The best way to avoid plagiarism is to always cite any source from which you take a quote or an idea. See the Plagiarism LibGuide for more information. 


  • Reference - - Reference can refer to a few different things: 1. A citation that describes a source of information (see 'citation' definition above); 2. A type of book in the library (usually encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.); or 3. The type of librarian that helps you with research. If your instructor says you need "references" to write a paper, he/she means that you should use information you find in sources of like books, periodical articles, and websites, in order to complete your assignment.


  • Subject Terms - Librarians create specific words or phrases called Subject Terms to describe library resources. Subject terms are used consistently in order to create a 'controlled vocabulary' (see definition above). You might have better results searching for materials using subject terms, rather than keywords (see the 'Subject Terms Search' tab for more information). For example, while you might describe something with the keyword FDR, all resources on that topic would described with the subject term Roosevelt Franklin D; you will find more resources using the subject term, rather than the keyword.


  • Truncation - A search technique that can broaden your search. By entering the first part of a keyword and inserting a symbol (usually *), you will retrieve search results with variant spellings or word endings, from the occurrence of the symbol forward. For example, librar* retrieves library, libraries, librarian, librarians, etc.). For more information, see the 'Truncation and Wild Card Searching' page under the 'Advanced Search Tips' tab. 


  • Works Cited - A list of citations that documents the sources you quoted in your paper. Works Cited lists are required when writing a research paper according to MLA format. You might also hear Works Cited referred to as references or a bibliography, though there is a slight difference (see the 'bibliography' definition, above). For more information on creating a Works Cited list, see the 'Works Cited Lists' tab.


Some definitions were modified from two online glossaries:| Central Library: 281-476-1850 | Generation Park Campus: 281-998-6150 x8133 | North Library: 281-459-7116 | South Library: 281-998-6150 ext. 3306