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Primary Sources for Science: How to Find Primary Sources

Learn about what are considered primary sources, how to find them at GSU, how to use them, and how to cite them.

Craft a Search Strategy

  1. Think of your topic or research question and summarize it in a sentence 
  2. Formulate your key words and phrases by:
    • Identifying the main concepts of your topic or idea
    • Identifying synonyms, related words, and the vocabulary of the topic  
  3. Create a list of the different combinations of these words and phrases to search

Search Tools & Tips

Boolean operators 

  • Use AND to narrow your search results
  • Use  OR to expand your search results
  • Use NOT to weed out unrelated search results

Phrase searching

Some of your search terms will be phrases. To search for a phrase, you must put quotation marks around it to be sure the whole phrase is being searched in the correct word order

ex. "bone mineral density"


Use parentheses around words to create an order for your search. The words in the parentheses will be searched first.

ex. (fungus OR Mold) AND lifecycle


Your search may be for a topic that can fall under many iterations of the same word. You can identify the word's stem and search with truncation to return all the different forms of that word.

ex. a search for the word treat* would also search for treat, treats, treatment, treatments, treating

BUT this will only search for iterations of the same word, not synonyms
The truncation symbol can be *, $, ?, ! depending on the search engine

Fields and limiters

Most search engines or databases allow at least one or two fields or limiters. These are ways to limit your search to certain results.

  • You can limit your search results to publications on certain subjects
  • You can limit your search results to publications from certain years or those published in certain periods
  • You can select for your results to only be peer reviewed and/or from scholarly journals

Library Databases

Database tips:

  • Look for a database that is in your subject area, that way you don't have to weed out articles in different disciplines

  • When searching in a database, *always* check the box to select peer-reviewed and/or scholarly journals

  • If available, under document type select "Article" or "Academic" because this is more likely to return primary sources

  • Use the Advanced Search function, it gives you the option to use Boolean operators and will save your search history

  • Click on the "Concept map" option for a search to find more keywords or vocabulary related to your topic

The Discover Search

Try  your search in the box below:

Library Discover search

The GSU Library's Discover Search searches the library's catalog and databases. The Advanced Search option allows you to enter multiple search terms with Boolean Operators.

BUT it doesn't search all the library's databases and it doesn't have as many limiters as searching individual databases


Google Scholar Search


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Laura Carscaddon
Library South 542 (Subject Librarian suite)

What if the library doesn't have the full-text of my article?

If the library doesn't have the full text of your article:

You can request a copy of the article via Interlibrary Loan


When you find an article on your topic you want to use:

  • You can automatically generate a citation in the Discover Search, on Google Scholar, and in a database

  • You can download a citation in .RIS or .BibTeX form to import into a citation manager (like Zotero, EndNote, or Mendeley)

  • You can download the citation directly to a citation manager