Answered By: Colin Magee
Last Updated: Aug 10, 2022     Views: 3


Filtering your results means limiting the search based on certain criteria. The two that you'll want to pay the most attention to are publication date and source type.


ProQuest search page with the search box highlighted.

Let's do a new search to find information about the Flint water crisis, which affected the drinking water in the city of Flint, Michigan. I'll type in "water crisis" in quotations, AND flint.  


ProQuest search results page with the "peer reviewed" filter highlighted.

The left side of your search results is where you can apply limits. If you limit it to "peer reviewed" by clicking on that check box, it's mostly only going to show you articles from scholarly journals. More on that in a minute.


ProQuest search results page with the publication date filter highlighted.

Let's skip "source type" for right now and go down to "publication date."  You can easily filter it so that you're only retrieving articles in your search results from the last 12 months, the last 5 years, the last 10 years, or you can input a custom date range. If your topic is about technology for example, you'd probably want to be looking at more recent articles from the last 5 years, since technology changes quickly.


ProQuest search results page with "clear filters" highlighted.

Okay. I'm going to click "clear my filters" and then we'll look at source type.


ProQuest search results page with "full text" filter highlighted.

Before you do that, make sure you set your limit back to "full text."


ProQuest search results page with "scholarly journals" filter highlighted under source type.

When we looked at the Gale Opposing Viewpoints database, the search results in that database were automatically broken down by source type. So we saw viewpoint articles grouped together, magazine articles grouped together... But in most of the library's databases, including ProQuest, it doesn't do that. It sorts everything by relevance, meaning it shows at the top of your list the article that it thinks is the most useful one. But sometimes you're going to want to find scholarly information -- which is basically studies and research.  And sometimes you'll want basic information that's written for the general public -- which is usually found in magazines and newspapers. So you can filter out which source type you want, on the left. If you want to look at scholarly information, you can limit it to "peer reviewed," which is another term for scholarly information (it just means that other scholars review it for validity before it is published). And you can also just click "scholarly journals" under "source type." Now everything in your results is a scholarly journal article.


ProQuest search results page with the article "Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis" highlighted.

So what exactly is a scholarly journal article? Usually it's an actual study, or scientific experiment, that's been done on an issue.  So here's an example of a study done about the Flint water crisis. Let's click on this one: "Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis." 


Article page in ProQuest with "Full Text - PDF" link highlighted.

I'm going to click on "Full text PDF" and we'll get the actual image. This is what the article looks like in the print publication. It was published in the American Journal of Public Health.


Full text article page in ProQuest for the article "Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis" with the abstract highlighted.

So, we'll look at the title first. They're studying the blood lead levels in children -- trying to see if the contaminated water in Flint had lead in it, and if that affected children who drank it. Just about all scholarly journal articles have an abstract at the top. An abstract is a summary of the entire article. That's this part here, in blue. So the objectives and methods: they analyzed blood levels, before and after the water source was changed. And the results and conclusions: the lead level did increase, and interestingly enough, it was worse in the socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.


ProQuest article page for the article "Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis" with the results highlighted.

To make sure it wasn't some other factor that affected the lead level increase, they tested children living outside of Flint as well. Down here in the results, they show that their findings "strongly implicate the water source change as the probable cause for the dramatic increase in EBLL" which is Elevated Blood Lead Level percentage. The study also shows that lead levels were already higher before the crisis in the poorer areas of Flint.

One thing to point out about scholarly articles is that they are sometimes limited. Although they often do provide scientific evidence in a lot of cases like in this article -- which showed pretty conclusively that changing the water source to the contaminated Flint River was the direct cause of the Flint water crisis, this study had its limits. They only studied how children were affected, for example, and not adults. This study, also, does not attribute any blame. It doesn't talk about why the decision to change the water supply was made. While we know that the switching of the water source was the direct cause, we don't learn anything from this article about how that decision was ultimately a political decision. So scholarly articles are very focused on the scientific facts and that's sometimes it.


ProQuest search results page with the "scholarly journal" filter being cleared.

If we go back to our search results, let's see if we can find an article that puts the cause of the Flint water crisis in better context. For that, we'll look for a popular article -- something from a magazine or newspaper that is written to inform the public. Let's get rid of the filter for "scholarly journals" over on the left. 


ProQuest search results page in with the "Newspapers" filter highlighted under "source type."

And now we'll click the filter for "newspapers" under "source type." Since news is constantly updated, a lot of what you'll see in your search results has to do with ongoing litigation due to the crisis.


ProQuest search results page with the article "Series of Mistakes Tainted Flint Water" highlighted.

Let's take a look at this article right here: "Series of Mistakes Tainted Flint Water." 


Full text article page for the article "Series of Mistakes Tainted Flint Water" with the "cite" link highlighted on the top right side of the page.

A quick glance at this article shows us that the city and state governments were responsible for the decision to change the water supply, and didn't inform the public that the lead levels were dangerous until 18 months later.

So the scholarly article showed us a study that was conducted that proved there was a problem, and this newspaper article gives us the broader context that led to that decision.

Don't forget that once you find an article, you'll need to locate the MLA citation in order to cite your source. Click on "Cite" at the top right.


Full text article page for the article "Series of Mistakes Tainted Flint Water" with the MLA 9th Edition citation box pulled up.

The box that pops up defaults to an MLA 9th Edition citation. Copy and paste this into your Works Cited page.

So to summarize, ProQuest is a trickier database to use, but with some search strategies and using the filters, you'll have better luck finding what you need.


Your turn

Now, you'll get a chance to practice finding articles about the water crisis in Africa.


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