Search Strategies                    

or--How do I find 10 scholarly articles on my topic?

       

Your professor has assigned a research project, and it's due in six weeks. 
You've got a working topic, but how do you refine it and start searching for the information you need?  The following simple steps should help you develop an effective search strategy that will make it easier for you to quickly and effectively locate useful and relevant resources.

 

Start by writing your topic as a single phrase or question.  Identify the words or ideas that are the most important--most of the time they will be the nouns in your phrase.   These words are the keywords you will use as building blocks for your research.

Write down the keywords you have identified.  You might find the following chart helpful.

KEYWORD 1

KEYWORD 2

KEYWORD 3

KEYWORD 4

       
       
       

 

Look carefully at the keywords you have entered into your chart.  Try to come up with related words or synonyms that you could search for instead of the words you have chosen.  If, for example, you were researching a topic related to smoking, you could enter the following

KEYWORD 1

KEYWORD 2

KEYWORD 3

KEYWORD 4

smoking

     

tobacco

     

cigarettes

     

 

Another thing to consider is variants of the words you have chosen.  If, for example, you've chosen environment as one of your keywords, you might also want to consider environmental or environmentally.   Most of the search engines in the databases to which Bailey Library subscribes will allow you to truncate your search word--this process allows you to find all variants of a word.   More on that later--but keep these variants in mind.

You should also consider broader or narrower terms.  Broader terms are especially helpful if you are having trouble finding information on the words you have chosen.  If, for example, you want to find some information on Little Venice, a neighborhood in London, but are having trouble finding the results you need, you might do better to use London as your search term.

By now you should have gathered a pretty thorough list of search terms.  What you'll need to do next is decide which databases you should search.  A database is simply an index to articles that have appeared in various publications--from newspapers to scholarly journals.  Most databases today also provide a collection of full-text articles--a convenient way to access the same articles that appeared in the print version of the publication.  Ask yourself which academic disciplines might be interested in your topic.  Since many databases focus on a particular academic discipline, the answer to this question will help point you to the appropriate resource.  If, for example you were researching SARS and China, you might look at both a health database and a business database (to find out the economic impact of the 2003 epidemic).  You can find appropriate databases for your search by checking the library's Resources by Departments lists.

 


Bailey Library
Slippery Rock University
Jane M. Smith
11/2004