Once you have an idea of what your topic is, you'll need to get the big picture. What are the major themes involved with your topic? What are the key terms associated with it?
Reference sources like encyclopedias are a great way to begin. They'll show you which sources experts recommend and give you ideas for specific areas of the topic you may want to research. Reference sources are often broad and general, so it's best to start here and narrow your topic down as you progress.
Based on your findings in books and reference sources, you'll want to narrow down your topic so that you can focus on a few main points. A few ways to do this are:
-Look at the terms used by authors of general works
-Look for the main concepts or issues mentioned in general sources
-Look at citations in general sources (the bibliography at the end of a reference article) or for mentions of experts in the field
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.
The CRAP Test
Purpose/Point of View
Adapted from Dominican University
Librarians at Pratt want to help you with your research :) Here's how to contact us: