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Expand Your Research Vocabulary

Key Terms to Know

Learning Benefits

Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Cognitive Skills

How do you use these documents and methods of research to make a lasting impression? Chances are, your teacher will be happy that you know what fact checking is, and he'll be way happier if you actually do fact check all your information. Got it? Either way, the definitions below are quite useful for any researcher:

  • Almanac
    A publication of useful interesting facts like the world's most spoken language (Mandarin Chinese, not English) or how many steps it takes to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower (1,792). 
  • Archives
    Historical documents, public records, institutional files, or other materials that have been preserved in some sort of organized fashion. A library's special collection is a fine place to look at archives of, say, President John Adams' letters to the First Lady, his wife Abigail. You may also find archives available on the Web. 
  • Bibliography
    Also known as the "Works Cited" page, this goes at the end of your report. It lists, in alphabetical order, all the sources you used to find your fantastic information. The widely recognized format citation, issued by MLA, is easy to follow. For example, if the author of this article were to ever write a book on one of her favorite subjects, the citation would probably go a little something like this:
    Pitterman, Cara E. I Love Derek Jeter and Other Analysis on Why the Yankees Are the Best Baseball Team Ever. Shortstop Publishing, Inc.: New York, NY. 1996. Pg. 2–35.
    In other words, the order goes: author (last name, first name, middle initial); title of the book; publishing house; location of publication; year of publication; and pages numbers from which the information was collected. Don't forget to indent from the second line down! 
  • Biographical Dictionary
    Yeah, yeah, smarty pants, you know what a dictionary is. But a biographical dictionary is a pretty splendid resource because it gives short profiles on famous people, like inventors, presidents, rock stars, writers, and comedians. If you're stuck at the beginning and not sure whom you want to research, this is a super place to start. 
  • Boolean Operator
    When searching for information on the Web or through a computerized library catalog, words like AND, OR, NOT, or EXCEPT can limit or expand your keywords search. Your librarian can help you use these smooth operators to find connections between keywords and your research topic. 
  • Caption
    An explanatory sentence that goes beneath (or above, whatever floats your boat) a picture, diagram, or photograph you'd use as an illustration within your research paper. Knowing how to construct an informative caption will tell your teacher details that she wouldn't necessary derive just from looking at the visual, like the place or date it was taken (if it's a photo), who or what is in it (if it's a picture), or dimensions (if it's a diagram of a structure).
  • Dewey Decimal System
    Melvil Dewey, you were the man! In 1876, Mr. Dewey came up this crazy idea that books should be sorted by subject and assigned numbers so that librarians could easily access what they were looking for. Can you imagine walking into your library today and waiting for hours as your librarian hunts down the specific title you want? Mr. Dewey, we thank you.

Here's a quick guide to the numbers in the Dewey Decimal System:

000–099 is General Information, like reference books.
100–199 is Philosophy and Psychology. Go there when you're pondering the meaning of life.
200–299 is Religion. Find yourself curious about the history of the Christian church? You can locate a timeline here.
300–399 is Social Sciences, which includes mostly books about human relationships. For instance, find facts about education in this section.
400–499 is Language. That Italian translation is on the tip of your tongue. This is where the definition lives.
500–599 is Natural Science and Math. Stretch skyward as you get the astronomy book off the shelf.
600–699 is Technology. Want to know how Coca Cola was made? Check out the "beverage" technology section.
700–799 is Arts. Boogie down in the aisle that has books about dancing.
800–899 is Literature. Feel clueless about what Ural-Altaic or Paleosiberian Lit is? Don't you worry; they're both here for you to discover.
900–999 is Geography and History. Trek to the edge of the world and back — all in one library aisle.


  • Fact Checking
    All researchers should hand in a paper confident that the information is accurate, and the best way to do so is to check your facts. If you read Elizabeth Cady Stanton's diary entry dated Tuesday, July 19, 1848, about the euphoria she felt as she opened the first Women's Rights Convention, check the World Almanac to make sure it really was July 19 and not June.
  • Keywords
    Using keywords is evidence that you've mastered the art of researching because these are the words that help you find resources related to your topic at the library or on the Internet. When your teacher asks you how you found so many relevant books filled with significant information, casually mention that you spent some time brainstorming keywordsfor your topic at the library before you went searching for sources. She'll marvel at the practicality of your research methods.
  • Microfilm
    Basically, the non-scientific definition is that microfilm is a reduced-scale version of printed material, like a newspaper, on a filmstrip that's easier to store because it's less bulky and less prone to aging. It's enlarged on screen for your reading pleasure. Microfilm is really useful if you want to find the front-page newspaper headlines from May 24, 1977. You can even go back way further in time than that, to the early 1900s. See how far back in history you can go!
  • Plagiarism
    Plainly stated, plagiarism is literary theft. Stealing another person's words and pretending those words are your own is a serious offense, and teachers will punish a student who commits plagiarism. To learn more about proper quotation, how to correctly cite your sources, and the boundaries separating intentional and unintentional copying, check out facts about plagiarism.
  • Primary Source
    Items, such as letters, official documents, photographs, statistical records, interviews, and manuscripts from the actual time you're studying are considered primary sources. These lend a little something extra to your research. You can find primary sources in an archive. You'll also find them in museums and reproduced on the Web.
  • Search Engine
    An Internet site, like Yahoo! or Google, that lets you surf the Web by typing in keywords and leading you to pertinent Web sites. Be choosy about the sites you use — don't settle for the first Web site on the list. You can't always trust the information just because it's widely viewed, so check your facts. Quick side note: if you have time before you start researching, try putting your name into the Google search engine and see how many hits come up. Seeing your name on the Web, whether it's actually you or not, is seriously fun.

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