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The Six-step Approach to Summon: Finding Online Journal Articles: Home

This guide presents a search strategy, "The Six-step Approach to Summon," for finding online journal articles on a specific topic.

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Brian Gray
Title: Team Leader Research Services; RSL for Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering AND Macromolecular Science & Engineering
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Summon is the search engine which Kelvin Smith Library has chosen to provide searching across all the resources it makes available to the university community.

  • Summon searches the physical collections onsite or within other OhioLink libraries: books, print journals, microfilms, DVDs and CDs.
  • Summon searches the online collections for which Kelvin Smith Library provides access: ebooks, online journals, online newspapers, online reference tools, streaming audio, and databases which index the literature of specific fields.

Common problems students face when using Summon to search on a specific topic include retrieving too many results or results which are not relevant to the topic being searched. The search strategy outlined below, the "Six-step Approach to Summon," allows one to work with large results sets to pull out the most relevant materials. 

Six-step Summon Search Strategy

The 6 steps:   Search – Limit – Focus – Browse – Save – Loop (Refocus-Browse-Save)

The basic search box for Summon is in the upper right hand corner of the Kelvin Smith Library Webpage (

Step 1. Search: You must facet your topic, i.e., break it down into terms and phrases for your search. It is often better to drop verbs and phrases which describe relationships between terms, e.g., cause of, relationship to, which don't work well in most searching. Do not use too many terms, or your results set may be too small to work with effectively. A paper topic such as "Music therapy for children traumatized by war," could be broken down into: "music therapy" AND children AND war.

Basic tools for constructing your search: Quotes for phrases: “world music". Logical connectors: AND, OR, NOT. These must be entered in all caps. Wildcards: wom*n for woman or women, music* for musician or musical. Now enter and execute your search:

Summon 6-step 80%

Step 2. Limit: You will often get a very large results set, depending on your search. The search above, when executed on 6/5/13 retrived 4,583 results. We will now do some initial limiting of the results. Remember, we are searching for online articles which will be acceptable to your professor (peer-reviewed or scholarly articles). Check the boxes for "Items with full text online" and "Articles from scholarly publications":

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The results were reduced to 205. It is often worth your time to make one additional limit. Under content type, exclude book reviews. Results are now down to 177.

Summon 6-step image 3 

Step 3. Focus: You are now going to focus your results on specific subject terms or groups of subject terms which have been assigned to these articles. Click on "more ...  " under the Subject Terms and then Sort the list alphabetically. You do this in order to put similar headings next to each other.

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 You are now going to focus your attention on a set of related subject headings which cover one part of your topic. Let's start with all the terms related to war or the flight from the homeland that so often accompanies war:

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This particular focusing reduced the results to 35, a manageable amount for carefully browsing and evaluation.

Step 4. Browse: You need to look over the results to ascertain which are relevant. This sort of browsing requires critical thinking skills on your part. You have created a topic on your on, but at this point you need to let the potential literature on your topic guide you in finding resources and understanding your topic more fully, even to the point of altering your topic some as you learn more about it. While browsing you need to consider the name of the journal:

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Summon searches across disciplines, which is its greatest strength, and the titles of the journals are your best clue as to which disciplines cover the literature of your topic. An article in the journal Arts in Psychotherapy spans two disciplines relevant to your topic and as such is quite likely to be very useful. You obviously want to read the abstract, or summary of the article, which is available for many articles cited in Summon. To see the full abstract, run your cursor over the article's title:

Summon 6-step image 7

Sometimes the abstract still leaves you wondering how relevant an article might be to your topic. One quick way to further evaluate an article is to access the full text and use “find” (Windows = control + f, Max = command + f) to see how many times a term or phrase appears. For the article above your might search for "war" within the article. You can also skim the article quickly, paying particular attention to the first and last paragraphs, which introduce the article and summarize its findings respectively. A quick skim over the article's bibliography or endnotes can also tell you a lot about an article, as well as give you additional sources on your topic.

Step 5. Save: Once you decide an article is relevant or has the potential to be relevant, save this item by clicking on the folder icon in the upper right-hand corner of the article citation:

 Summon 6-step image 8

All citations for articles you save are stored in a folder accessible at the bottom of your Summon screen. These saved items are available for the length of your session in Summon:

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Step 6. Loop: You “loop” by using your browser’s back button enough times to go back to the results you had before you focused on a set of subject terms. Choose a different set of subject terms in order to focus on a different aspect of you topic. In the search described above, we could go back and concentrate on subject terms which emphasize the music therapy aspect of the topic:

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You now repeat the process of browsing and saving. If an item was already saved from your previous focusing work, its save icon will be green:

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There are additional ways to loop back and modify your search. The most useful way is to modify your basic search based on what you are seeing in the literature. In the search described above for instance, you are reminded from some of your results that there are certainly other situations outside of war which result in children being traumatized. The use of music therapy for children traumitized by any form of violence may well inform you on how music therapy could be used with victims of war:

 Summon 6-step image 12

Note that when you loop back (past your subject term choices) to modify your basic search, you can save time by clicking on "Keep search refinements". Changing your topic in different ways as you search is part of the basic nature of research and an important exercise in developing your critical thinking skills.

Final saving of your search results:

Once you feel you have worked with your topic in Summon as much as you can or need, you can open your saved items folder at the bottom of your Summon window and email yourself the citations in your save folder (in the citation style of your choice). This list will include links to the full text.

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You can print your citations in your save folder. A new window will open with a printer friendly formatted page. You can print this or ask to save it to your computer as a pdf (or as a webpage) which includes links to the full text.

What next?

Summon is setup to include direct links to the full text of online journal articles, whenever CWRU has access to those journals. These links work quite well, but occasionally you will find a broken link. Do not give up! Write down the information about the journal article (journal title, issue, year and page numbers) and use the Kelvin Smith Library eJournal portal to track down the online journal by title. The KSL eJournal portal is your definitive tool for ascertaining if you have online access to a specific journal and which issues are available to you.

This short tutorial taught you one basic strategy for finding online journal articles via Summon. You should experiment and develop your own strategies:

  • Learn the Summon advanced search screen.
  • Develop a basic strategy for finding online newspaper articles.
  • Develop a basic strategy for using books, being sure to differentiate between searching for books at KSL and books on OhioLink.
  • Note that many searches will generate suggestions about discipline specific databases. Learn how to use those databases, particularly those in your home discipline: 

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Freshmen and women, if you have additional questions about Summon, ask your Personal Librarian!