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Begin Your Research Here: Strategies

Getting Started with Keywords

Begin with good keywords and good resources
  • Good keywords for searching come from your own topic, expressed as a clear question or declarative statement; from earlier searches; from talking to your faculty; or from reading.

  • Good resources can come from your own knowledge; from the library's research guidesfrom a consult with a librarian (walk-in, or research appointment); from faculty suggestion, or from the library's collections.

Search, Examine, Refine

What are good search approaches?
  • Phrases, when you have them, work well. Surround a phrase with "double quotes" to search only the exact phrase.
  • Keyword combinations using AND, OR, and NOT move your search towards "effect of idea 2 on idea 1" and variations.
    • I want:
      • "alternative energy" AND "solar energy" - both-at-the-same-time, narrows
      • "alternative energy" OR "solar energy" - either/or is good, broadens
      • "alternative energy" NOT "solar energy" - alternative, not interested in solar, narrows
  • Survey what you can find in your first search or two.
How does one examine results?
  • Sources: what kind do you need, what kind do you see, how recent do they have to be? You might have to browse a page or two.
    • News? Journals? Peer review journals? Specific dates? You can often limit to them with options on the screen left.
    • Sort, and examine: it's useful to sort-by-date newest material to the top, if your search looks good.
  •  Terms: What new words do you notice?
    • Browse titles and descriptions/abstracts/subjects to turn up new, better, search keywords - research oriented language, synonyms, related terms. "Monkeys" might work, but research publications may use the "genus/species" or "howler monkeys." You may start with "abstract art" but need "abstract expressionism." "Feminism," or is "third/fourth wave" feminism more on target?
  • Patterns: Note what scholars tend to write about. Patterns suggest new connections, interests, or combinations for new searches.
Refine and re-search how?

Refining a search is like editing a draft. You have to really look at what you've got, as above, and make changes.

  • Can you add a new term after examining results? "monkeys" OR "howler monkeys"?
  • Can you use better terms? "monkeys" to "howler monkeys" OR "Alouatta palliata"?
  • Can you add or change a combination? "howler monkeys" AND "sleeping sites" NOT "food patch"?
  • Are your kinds of sources certain? Should you limit to books, or journals, or peer review?
  • Is it worth sorting by date or using date limits? "Reptiles and amphibians," older articles may be quite valuable. "Intersectionality," might sort newest to top.
Should I use specialized resources?

Sometimes an assignment calls for sources beyond books and journals. Check the research guides for tabs that contain:

  • Data and statistics 
  • Digital collections
  • Historic newspapers
  • Video collections 
  • Music and Audio collections

Find a Research Guide!

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