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Pro & Con: Finding Materials to Support a Position: Step 2: Use Magazine and Journal Indexes


Magazines, journals, and newspapers ("periodicals") are good sources for opinion. There is no foolproof way to find all "pro" or "con" articles on a given topic in a periodical index. The indexes do not categorize articles in this way, so the user must exercise ingenuity and good judgment to find and recognize articles supporting a given position. To make things even harder, many debates are "unbalanced" insofar as one position is much more popular than the other, or receives much more media coverage, or sometimes is just easier to find. Here are some tips, written with Gale databases in mind, although the general principles apply to any periodical database.

None of the techniques below is 100% effective in finding only desirable articles. After doing any search, look for words in the article titles that suggest that the desired viewpoint is present. Tip: The key combination Ctrl-F works on most browsers to open a "find" search. Look for a key term in the text of the article to evaluate whether that article is useful to you.

Use the Right Database

  • Different indexes or databases cover different types of periodicals.
  • Choosing the right index can increase the chances of finding an article with the right kind of content.

For example, in general-circulation magazines and news media clear cutting forests is likely to be discussed in a negative light. If you want an article giving facts, statistics, or opinions in favor of clear cutting, try looking in a business database such as Business Insights: Global, which would include general business magazines and forest-products-industry periodicals. A scientific database like ScienceDirect would include scientific studies on the topic.

Likewise, searching in a general database one may find only negative opinion articles on the whole-word system of reading instruction. Controlled studies, or opinions in favor, may be found in one of the education indexes, such as Education Fulltext or ERIC .

Use Rhetoric Specific to the Topic

Some controversial issues have created their own language. Where well-defined positions exist, there may be terms used exclusively by one side or the other in the debate. (A classic example is the abortion issue, in which each side has its own terminology, e.g., "Right to Choose" vs. "Right to Life.") If this is the case, selecting the appropriate value-laden words or phrases as search terms should help you find articles If you don't know any key terms to use, you may be able to find some in sources you found your Step 1 research.

Try to put yourself in the position of a person writing from the point of view you seek. For example, an author writing about "protecting water supplies" is unlikely to be in favor of loosening government environmental protection regulations. The writer in favor is more likely to use terms such as "incentive-based stewardship" or "overregulation" or "over-regulation" (note that there are two forms).

If a standard key word search on your term does not find anything, e.g., you type "English first" to find articles favoring the use of only the English language in U.S. schools, and don't find what you need, try clicking on the box marked, "search within full text articles." This will look for the key words anywhere in the text of the article.

Using Evidence

smoking gunYou don't need to find an opinion article. Articles that contain evidence are even more useful for making an argument.  Types of evidence that can help include:

Smoking Gun photograph ©Charles Knowles, used under a CC By 2.0 license