Skip to Main Content

Conducting Research

Tips from your Washington University librarians on locating, evaluating, and citing sources used in your research.


Let us know if you think of some other library language we should define (use comment option below).



A brief summary of the main points in a book, article or other work.

An evaluation or description of an entry in a catalog, bibliography or other work.

A compilation of writings or poems from one or more authors focusing on a particular subject or literary form.

APA (American Psychological Association) :
A formatting method used in citing sources and writing papers, usually within the social sciences.

WU’s electronic course reserve system (



  1. A list of works cited at the end of an article, book, or other information source,
  2. A book-length collection of citations published on a specific subject.

Boolean Operators or Boolean Logic:
Refers to the words AND, OR and NOT. Used to formulate complex searches in online resources.

Bound Periodical:
Issues of magazines or journals that have been fastened together. Bound periodicals are arranged by call number. (See also Current Periodical)

Browse Search:
Reads exact wording from left to right, and displays search results alphabetically. Useful for author, title, subject or call number searching.


Call Number:
Unique sequence of letters and numbers assigned to each item in the library to indicate subject content and shelf location. WU Libraries use the Library of Congress system.

A list of records that represent the holdings of a library or group of libraries.

Chicago Style:
A formatting method used in citing sources and writing papers, used in many academic disciplines

The information needed to track down a book, article, or other work. For books, this includes the author, title, place and year of publication. For articles, it consists of the author, article title, page numbers, periodical title, volume and date. Citing is the act of giving credit to an original source.

Classic Catalog:
The Classic Catalog searches for Washington WashU Libraries' materials including: books, e-books, journals (not specific articles), audio media (CDs and LPs), video media (DVDs), microforms, maps, printed music, etc.

Controlled Vocabulary:
A specified list of terms developed by creators of catalogs and databases to ensure precise and comprehensive searching.  The terms chosen will vary from database to database. (See also Descriptors and Subject Heading)

The legal provision of exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute a book, article, music, or other work.

Course Reserves:
Some items may be electronically accessible via ARES physical items may be checked out for short periods.

Current Periodical:
The most recently published issues of a magazine or journal. Most WU libraries have current periodicals available for browsing.


An organized, searchable collection of information, often related to a specific subject area. One of the primary tools for locating periodical articles by topic. Most databases available through the library are licensed resources with access restrictions.

The terms that make up the controlled vocabulary used to describe the content of records in databases. (See also Subject Heading)

Discovery Catalog:
In addition to records from the Classic Catalog, the Discovery Catalog includes manuscripts, archives, digital collections, and the library website.

A work of original research and prerequisite for a doctoral degree. Consult this guide for accessing dissertations:


Electronic Journal:
A journal that is distributed online via the Internet. Most electronic journals available through the library are licensed resources with access restrictions.

A work, print or electronic, containing informational articles on a single subject or multiple subjects, usually arranged alphabetically.


Get it!:
A feature built in to many databases that provides a bridge between licensed database content and material that is available to WU library users online, in print or through Interlibrary Loan.


Help Desk:
Service location where users can ask questions and get in-depth assistance using library resources and finding information.

A request that an item currently checked out be held for another user when it is returned.  Holds may be picked up at the Help Desk.

All the items that make up the library collection.



  1. A guide to the contents of a single work,
  2. A print or electronic collection of citations to articles, books and other materials, often searchable by subject or author.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL):
Facilitates the sharing of materials between libraries; WU students, faculty and staff may use ILL to obtain access to books, articles and other materials not available locally. Requests can be submitted online or in-person.

WU’s interlibrary loan (ILL) management system

ISBN (International Standard Book Number):
A unique number assigned to a book before publication to identify the publisher, title and edition.

ISSN (International Standard Serial Number):
An identification number assigned to serial publications.

A uniquely dated and numbered part of a periodical.


A periodical containing articles on specialized topics, written by researchers or scholars. Articles generally include abstracts and bibliographies.


Keyword Search:
A broad approach to online searching that returns occurrences of a term from different parts of a record.


Library of Congress Classification:
Subject-based classification system developed in 1897 by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and commonly used by large WashU Libraries to organize their collections.


A periodical aimed at a general audience, containing a variety of articles and advertisements.

Documents that have been placed on photographic film and reduced in size. A machine called a reader is necessary to view material in this format. (See also Microform)

Flat plastic sheets containing pages from documents that have been reduced in size. A machine called a reader is necessary to view material in this format. (See also Microform)

General term applied to documents that have been photographed and reduced in size. Common formats include microfilm and microfiche.

MLA Style (Modern Language Association):
A formatting method used in citing sources and writing papers, usually in the liberal arts and humanities .

A consortium of academic libraries in Missouri.  Member libraries, including WU, share a common catalog and allow cooperative borrowing privileges. More information on MOBIUS.

A work on a single subject, frequently a book.

My Find it!
Allows you to create your own QuickSets of databases, save citations, and save search histories.

Sets of subject-focused database offerings that have been selected by the Libraries' subject librarians. You can search up to ten databases at once and can customize your searches.

My Library Accounts:
Use your WUSTL Key to access your library record, place and monitor interlibrary loan requests, and access My Find it! (database sets and saved articles).

My Catalog:
Allows you to examine your library record, renew books, place holds, save searches, and track your reading history.  Login with your WUSTL Key.


Message indicating an item is available for check out. Other status messages such as AT BINDERY, SEARCHING, or BILLED indicate the item is not immediately available for checkout. In such situations, place a MOBIUS request or consult someone at the Help Desk for assistance.


Peer Review:
A process through which manuscripts submitted to a journal are evaluated for quality by one or more subject experts in addition to the editor before being accepted for publication.

A publication that appears at regular intervals (weekly, monthly, quarterly). Magazines and journals are examples of periodicals.

Copying another's work and passing it off as one's own.

Primary Source:
Material that provides a first-hand account of a subject or event. Examples include diaries, photographs, interviews, and original research studies. Sometimes referred to as original sources or source material.

Proxy Server:
Enables authorized users to access licensed library resources from off campus. Additional information.

Public Doman:
Generally defined as consisting of works that are either ineligible for copyright protection or with expired copyrights. No permission whatsoever is needed to copy or use public domain works. If the work was published in the United States prior to 1923, it is in the public domain. U.S. Government documents are also considered public domain. Rules on what is in the public domain vary from country to country. Definition adapted from University of California Copyright


Sets of pre-selected groups of databases that provide broad subject coverage. You are able to immediately access some of the most important and frequently searched databases in a variety of fields.


A request that an item currently checked out be returned immediately. Recalls may be submitted through the request function in the Catalog or in-person at the Help Desk.

The information used to identify and represent books, articles and other material in catalogs and databases. The components of a record are divided into fields.

Refereed Journal (See Scholarly Journal):
A publication containing articles that have undergone peer review.

Reference Collection:
Consists of dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, and other print and electronic sources that tend to be consulted for specific facts or bits of information rather than read in their entirety. Print reference materials located in specifically designated Reference areas must typically be used in the library and cannot be checked out.

To extend the due date of an item beyond the original loan period. May be accomplished online through My Library Accounts/My Catalog.

Function in the Catalog that enables WU students, faculty and staff to place recalls and requests.

Books, articles, lecture notes and other materials faculty require all students enrolled in a class to use. Some items may be electronically accessible via ARES; physical items may be checked out for short periods.


Scholarly Journal (See Refereed Journal):
A publication containing articles that have undergone peer review.

Secondary Source:
Material that interprets or analyzes a subject or event after the fact, often based on information from primary sources. Examples are textbooks, encyclopedias and book reviews.

Special Collections:
Department that houses the Library's rare books and manuscripts, the University Archives, and other non-circulating research materials. Rare Books and Manuscripts housed on the 1st floor of Olin Library; Modern Graphic History Library, Film & Media, and University Archives housed at West Campus

Shelves where the books and other library materials are located.

Status message:
A brief description in a catalog record indicating why an item is unavailable for check out. Some common status messages are AT BINDERY, OFF CAMPUS, SEARCHING.   If you see such a message on an item you need, place a MOBIUS request or consult someone at the Help Desk for assistance.

Subject Guides:
Compilations of databases and other resources by academic discipline. Provide a good starting point for subject-related article searching.  See the complete list of guides.

Subject Heading:
A word or phrase assigned to a record to describe its content.  Many items in the WU Libraries are given Library of Congress Subject Headings. In databases, subject headings are often referred to as descriptors.  (See also Controlled Vocabulary)


A list of the subject headings used in a catalog, index, or database, e.g. the controlled vocabulary.

A symbol placed after the root of a word in an online search to retrieve variant endings. Frequently used symbols include *, $, ?, and !. Example: librar* will find records that mention library, libraries, librarian, librarians, etc. Useful for expanding search results.



  1. The issues of a periodical that make up the whole of a given publishing period, for example, a year,
  2. All the material contained in a single binding.


West Campus:
Off-site storage facility for less frequently used library materials. Requests may be submitted using the request service in the Catalog or in-person at the Circulation Desk. Items are generally available within 1-2 working days.

A global network of libraries. If you request a book and it is not available through the MOBIUS libraries, it will most likely come from one of the participating WorldCat libraries.


Source:The University of California, Davis, The University Library, Library Instruction Services,