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Research Paper - How to Guide: Searching & Finding

Searching and Finding


Where to Start?

Don't know where to start now that you've got your research topic?

After consulting the reference sources (dictionaries and encyclopedias) we've just described, you'll want to start looking for more depth on your topic.

Books can be found through the library catalog and articles through our research databases. Before we look at those, you need to further analyze your topic to identify the best terms to use in your search.

Identify Search Terms

Identify Search Terms

The best search terms will be the main concepts in your research topic.  Take the time to choose them carefully, and your searches will be more successful. 

For example:

Research question:  How does globalization affect women in developing countries?
Search terms:  globalization, women, developing countries

Depending on what database you're using, you may find that the terms women and globalization are sufficient without the phrase developing countries. This is especially likely when searching for a book.  There may be a book about women and globalization that has a chapter on developing countries, but the whole book is not on that particular aspect.

You should have at least two concepts for your research topic, only one will be too broad, making it difficult to research and to write about.
When searching in an article database, the more specific search terms are usually more successful, and you would probably use all three concepts.

Boolean Operator "AND"

Boolean Operator "AND"

Along with your subject search terms you'll want to use the boolean operator AND in combination with your search terms.

AND will make your search more focused, by combining two or more terms together. 

AND requires that both (or all) terms be present in the results.

*Note that Google automatically assumes the word AND in between your search terms.  Most library catalogs and articles databases do not.

For example:

Search question: How does Facebook use affect college students' academic achievement?

Search terms: Facebook, grades, college

Search strategy: Facebook AND grades AND college - requires all three main concepts be present in each item found in the results. 


Boolean Operator "OR"

Boolean Operator "OR"

Along with your subject search terms and AND, you'll also want to use the "boolean operator" OR in combination with your search terms.

OR allows you to use alternate or similar terms to describe your topic.

OR will make your search more inclusive and less focused. 

OR allows for either term to be present in the results, but doesn't require both.

For example:

  • Facebook or twitter
  • grades or marks
  • college or university

Using AND with OR

Using AND with OR

Once you have your terms sorted out, you can then create your ideal search statement! 

If you want to use a variety of terms to describe a particular concept, then combine them with other terms using AND, then look for the Advanced Search screen option that most databases have. They usually have several lines of search boxes making it easier to combine your terms in different ways. For example:


Boolean Logic: How to Video

Boolean Searching

This video will demonstrate HOW and WHY to use Boolean Logic in your search.


Keyword vs Subject Searching

Keyword vs Subject Searching

Most searches can successfully start with keyword searching, but you might want to switch to subject searching if your results are off topic, too many, or too few.  If you can find just one item in your results that looks good, take the time to look at the long record, and check out the subject headings assigned to that item.

Subject headings:

  • are assigned when books are being catalogued or when articles are being added to a database
  • should always accurately describe the content of the item
  • other similar materials in the database, should share the same subject headings
  • subject headings usually work as links, so you can click on them to go to a list of all materials in the database sharing the same heading
  • can also just use the words to revise your search