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How To: Begin Your Research


Keywords and Phrases

Phrase searching is one of the most powerful ways to search, giving you a much more exacting results set. Put phrases in double quotes.

"alternative energy" OR "solar power"

Using AND, OR, and NOT will broaden or narrow your search. Remember, OR is more (results).

  • I want:
    • "alternative energy" AND "solar energy" - narrows your search
    • "alternative energy" OR "solar energy" - broadens your search
    • "alternative energy" NOT "solar energy" - narrows your search
  • Now on to evaluating your results!

Search, Examine, Refine

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. Look for our databases that contain:

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

Find a Research Guide!