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TCC Library: Work with incomplete information

Library "How do I...?"

Welcome to TCC Library "How Do I...?"

Find the information you need. Get your questions answered here.

Table of Contents

Need help? Ask us!

This happens to everyone, and librarians are here to help you track down the information you need!

Need more help? Try using Ask WA, our statewide librarian chat service for reference help. 

Partial citation information

What if you're looking for a specific article but only have pieces of the citation, instead of the full citation?

Work through the below steps.

  1. Figure out what you do know about the source.  Academic sources are organized in some consistent ways: by author, subject, title, etc.  You can use these pieces of information to find any source again.  We call these important pieces of information access points.
  2. Some access points are more useful than others when you’re searching.  Pay particular attention to:
    • Subject words
    • Publication date
    • Publication
    • Author
    • Title
  3. Choose a large database — as comprehensive as you can — and use the information you have to find the source again. For scholarly articles:
    • Try the Library's SuperSearch.
    • Try searching the large databases individually: Academic Search Complete or Proquest.
    • Try Google Scholar (be aware, however, that Google Scholar most often does not provide full access to articles.
  4. Start with the most specific piece of information you have. For articles, that will be the article title.
  5. If the title doesn’t work (or if you don’t have it) try the author.  If that search brings too many results, add some subject terms.
  6. If you have a publication date, most search tools will let you narrow to a specific date range.

That didn’t work!  What now?

  1. Re-check your information. There are a few things that are easy to mix up:
    • Articles:  Make sure you have the article title, not the journal title.
    • Articles:  Make sure you have the name of the journal, newspaper or magazine, not the database where you found it.  For example, EBSCO, ProQuest, and JSTOR are databases, not journals.
    • Dates: Make sure you have the publication date, not the date it was uploaded or updated.
  2. Try these additional forms of information:
    • DOI: The digital object identifier. This can often be found at the end of a citation. If you see a string of numbers and letters that start with DOI:10… you have a unique number that you can use to find your item. Copy and paste the number into Super Search, a specific database, or Google Scholar.
    • ISSN:  This is a unique number assigned to a journal when it is created.  You can use it to find the journal, and then search that specific journal to find your article.
Google Scholar Search

Library "How do I?" credits

The TCC Library "How do I?" guide is adapted from the Library DIY project created by Meredith Farkas, Amy Hofer, Lisa Molinelli and Kimberly Willson-St. Clair at Portland State University Library. Several Library "How Do I?" pages are adapted from pages within the Portland Community College Library "How do I" project, as well as the Oregon State University Libraries' Library DIY project.

CC BY SA license

Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content, with credit to TCC Library. When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Tacoma Community College Library and shared with a CC BY SA 4.0 license.

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