Urban affairs & planning: Searching, citing, engaging literatures

Urban Affairs & Planning at Virginia Tech conducts basic and applied research on national and international development patterns, focusing on key forces shaping metropolitan growth such as demographics, environment, technology, design, and transportation.

What's on this page

This page is divided into sections devoted to Bruce Pencek's handouts on planning and doing effective, efficient searching; guidance on citations and ethical use of others' work (including some video tutorials); effective scholarly communication; and sources of help about the VT Libraries and our vendors' platforms.

Lit-search how-to handouts

Think of these handouts as lecture notes for what Bruce Pencek said (tried to say... meant to say...) in class or a research consultation. 

Become a situationally aware searcher (Handouts and videos)

Bruce Pencek on search techniques to discover and acquire research sources effectively -- so you can manage your time and effort. 


I. When to search "the literature"... for the feasibility of the research plan, for primary and secondary sources relevant to the research question, and for making sure you've covered all bases on your answer to your question when you write your paper.

II. Situationally aware (re)searching. A sequence of tools and techniques for applying what you learn in one stage to clarify your information need and improve your success in  the face of too much information.

III. Operationalize and organize. A one-page grid framework for laying our your search as part of your research design, aligned with social science concerns for identifying concepts/variables, relationships, explanations, and evidence.

IV. Get tactical. Tips to give you better search results in less time.

  • What's the use of Discovery Search?  Pencek's take on the special uses and disadvantages of VT Libraries' third generation Discovery Search (aka WorldCat Discovery) and similar systems.
  • What kind of "article" am I looking at?  Some pointers for when you encounter things that look like articles so you can decide if they are appropriate for your project.  Compares characteristics, content, and information timelines for sorting out popular, trade, and academic publications.
  • Bibliographic speed dating. Illustrates use of overlooked search history (aka recent searches) functions in many subject databases to speed you through finding sources relevant to  your  research question. 
  • Search faster using insiders' power words. Quickly find relevant books and some articles using this list of "inside libraries" keywords in VT  Discovery Search, library catalogs, and even article databases if they use Library of Congress subject headings.
  • You can't search NEAR enough: "proximity" searching.  Reduce noisy results in full-text databases (and Google) by using the precise  NEAR command (and its relatives) instead of the noisy Boolean AND. Includes table of proximity syntax for several database and publisher platforms.

Video modules

(Re)search planning
Research, and thus literature searching, is planned, guided by a hunch that your work will test. Here are some considerations about planning your (re)search before you plunge into library tools.  Slide deck.   Related handouts:

Power Searching Subject Databases
Walk through using subject-oriented databases in the VT Libraries -- the most important tools and efficient tools for finding academic literature. Example illustrates the ProQuest platform specifically (using Worldwide Political Science Abstracts), it but refers when appropriate to similar functions in EbscoHost databases.  Slide deck.  Related handouts: 

Factiva for global news
Introduction to searching the large, powerful Factiva database of global news reporting.   Slide deck.  Related handout applies to most historical news archives as well:

Odyssey, our "learning object repository," offers a growing list of how-to videos and handouts, about the mechanics of using Virginia Tech Libraries' digital and physical resources, including


Orient yourself -- alternative map to VT Libraries website In case you get lost in the various platforms mashed together in the library's online presence.

Fine print: Pencek's handouts are published in this guide under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license. So you can adapt, slice, and dice the files for reuse, provided that you give me appropriate credit, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests that Bruce Pencek endorses you or your (re)use of his content.

Annotated Bibliography Resources

Literature Reviews

Research impact and publication

Virginia Tech's University Libraries supports participation in the scholarly conversation at every stage of the research life cycle, from planning to publishing (including journals and proceedings we host) to curation and archiving ... and even records management services for university units.

Manage your professional identity and impact
Publish strategically

Citation help: acknowledging others' work

Underneath good citations are good practices to manage your notes and evidence (qualitative or quantitative alike). Data management plans, long required by most major funders in STEM research grants, are increasingly expected for empirical social science and interdisciplinary humanities funded research as well.

Scholars working in those domains will find are some good tips in  Data management plans for historians: How to document and protect your research by Susan L. Collins, a librarian at Carnegie Mellon University. (Perspectives on History, October 2017).

Citing books, articles, and other documents
Citing data
Fair use for instructors

VT thesis and dissertation guidance

About iThenticate and ETDs :    A false rumor (as of summer 2018) alleges that the library will run VT ETDs through the new iThenticate plagiarism prevention system before archiving them.  VT Libraries is not involved in providing iThenticate and does not offer such a service. 

Tech's graduate school assigns responsibility to "graduate students and their advisors to verify that electronic theses and dissertations are appropriately written and cited."  Specifically

  1. Students must run their ETD through iThenticate and the similarity report must be reviewed by the student and advisor prior to scheduling the final examination.
  2. The final similarity report must be included in the submission of the ETD to the Graduate School. This report will be archived separately from the ETD.

Honor Codes at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech upholds the principles of academic and professional integrity through several honor systems. Expectations, procedures and penalties depend on the affiliation of the student.