Building a bank of keywords will make the rest of your research much simpler.
1. Gather background information, which will give you some key words to start with, and make your research a little easier.
2. Brainstorm other search terms: think of synonyms, or more technical terms, or official language vs. colloquial language
3. Think of some narrower search terms to get even more specific and some broader words in case you aren't finding much.
4. Think about what ideas and terms are related to your subject that might also be helpful.
Even when you've got a good keyword bank started, keep adding to it!
If you find a good article or book, look at the data record to see what other terms and subjects are used to describe it.
Remember that with library resources especially, it pays to search smart:
use AND in between search terms to group them together
use OR for more results
use NOT if you want to exempt a word from your results
use quotation marks "_" to isolate phrases
use the wildcard * to get all versions of a word
Research is like a treasure hunt or solving a mystery.
We have to try to combine the right terms in the right place to find the information we need.
How should you combine search terms to find what you are looking for?
Search for information using the single most important term related to your topic. Use this type of search when looking for basic background information.
Search for information by combining key concepts using the words you have brainstormed. Each concept/word should be separated by the word "AND". Use this kind of search when looking for specific evidence related to your claim/thesis.
Getting Too Many Irrelevant Results?
Add more search terms for narrower results.
Getting Too Few Relevant Results?
Change, switch out, or remove some search terms for more accurate or broader results.
How recent is the information?
Can you locate a date for when the resource was written/created/updated?
Based on your topic, is it current enough?
Why might the date matter for your topic?
What kind of information is included in the resource?
Is content of the resource primarily opinion?
Is is balanced or biased?
Is there a Bibliography? In other words, does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?
Can you determine who is the creator or author?
What are the credentials (education, affiliation, expertise?)
Is the publisher or sponsor reputable?
Are they reputable?
What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
Are there advertisements on the website?
What's the intent of the article? (to persuade you, to sell you something?)
For web resources, what is the domain? (.com .edu, .gov?) How might this influence the purpose or point of view?
For web resources, are there ads on the webpage? How do they related to the topic of the web resource? (for example an ad for ammunition next to an article on firearm legislation or against gun control)
Is the author presenting fact or opinion?
Adapted from Dominican University
Keeping track of your research will make things a lot easier in the long run. Figure out a way that works for you, maybe a notebook, maybe an online document, perhaps sending emails to a particular folder - something that makes sense to you.
Things to track:
Which databases you are using and what keywords you use in each one. You will get different results with specific keywords depending on the database. Tracking this makes sure you won't keep going back to the same place and putting in the same keywords and not getting any new or better results.
Citation information (refer to the Citing Sources tab for information on formatting citations) - there's nothing more frustrating than being in the middle of writing a paper and discovering that you can't remember where you found a certain article. If you can't find the full citation, you won't be able to use it in your paper.
Dates that you conduct searches. If you're working on a longer-term project, you may have gaps of time between research sessions. Databases are constantly adding new material, so you may want to repeat a particularly successful search if some time has passed to see what's new.