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Begin Your Research Here: Strategies

Good Searching Is Like Good Writing

You have to edit, revise, and refine what you tried before.  First and final searches are pretty rare.

Making Appointments

Did you know you can reserve time with one of our research and instruction librarians so they can assist you with your project?

Go to the Research Appointments page to select a date and time for your individualized session.

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

Search Our Research Guides!

Related Guides

Chat with a Librarian

If you need research help or have a question about the library during normal business hours, try chatting with a Research Librarian (general questions, research questions, library resources) or with the College Archivist (campus and local history, special collections, etc.)