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Research Toolbox

The tools you need, when you need them.

Identifying Search Terms

Identify Key Concepts

Identify key concepts and terms related to your topic area.

There may be just one concept or, more likely, several concepts that will need to be considered.

Within each concept, you will need to determine appropriate words or phrases, including synonyms, broader terms, related terms and narrower terms. Revise this list during the actual search process by noting and using subject headings that have been assigned to relevant books and articles. 

For example if your topic is "gun control", other terms you might use are "firearms", "law" or "legislation", "ownership", "guns and violent crimes."

Choosing Where to Search

Choose where to search

You can search in three distinct places: the library catalog (for books, ebooks, videos, and audiobooks), databases (for articles), and the freely available internet (for rare or difficult to find information available on websites.)

Items searchable via the library catalog are great sources of both general and highly specific information. Use the tools available in books--table of contents, index--to pinpoint information.

Databases provide access to high quality, up-to-date information from respected publishers and publications. They provide sophisticated search capabilities and access in many instances to full-text articles.

Be very careful when using the freely available  internet. You risk finding too much "junk," with web pages that contain potentially biased information from unreliable and unverifiable sources. You are responsible for analyzing the website for accuracy and reliability. Google Scholar can be a valuable tool, but it may lead you to articles that you are then asked to pay for. Never pay for an article; see the librarian who can help you find something similar if the article is not available in one of the school's databases.

Choose a database to search based on your topic. For example: if your topic deals with psychology, search psychology databases such as Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection (EBSCO). For theology topics, search Religion and Philosphy Collection (EBSCO).

For Interdisciplinary topics, search general databases such as Academic Search Premier (EBSCO), General One File (GALE), or ProQuest. If you have any questions about which database(s) to search, ask a librarian.

Start Your Search

Get started

Start with a general search. If you start with a complicated, specific search, you will probably have very few results. You will get better results if you begin with general search terms and then modify your search terms to be more specific from there.

For example, if you are researching various aspects of the subject of obesity, start with a simple search of just that term.

Enter the one concept and then analyze your results.

Ask yourself the following questions:

    *How much information is available on the topic?

    *Are there better terms that I could use?

    *Will I need to narrow or expand my topic?