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Tools: Research Tips

Research Tips and Strategies

  • When keyword searching, use key words that best describe your topic.  The objective is to get a small group of relevant records.  People, places themes, characters, time periods, events, types of information (i.e. ethnography) issues and more can be key words.  What words or phrases best describe your topic?
  • For locating primary source material, consider these “subject keywords”: sources, documents, personal narrative, documentary history, archives, manuscripts, correspondence, speech*, oration, statistics, cartoon*, interview*, oral history*.
  • Evaluate your search results.  Click on the title to view the entire reocrd, including chapters and subject headings.  If you don’t see related materials in the top 10-20 items of your search results, reconstruct your search using alternative keywords, synonyms, narrower terms, more terms, etc.  
  • Note the citation/source information (journal title, volume #, issue #, and date) before leaving the database, even if just to go to another window.  The citation is the most important information in the database record and is required to locate the article text, online or in print.
  • Raid bibliographies.  Books and articles have bibliographies and references.  Use them so you don’t have to spend hours database searching.
  • In the library, like materials are shelved together.  When looking for a particular book on the shelf, also scope out what’s shelved next to it.  Books and back issues of periodicals are inter-filed on the shelves in call number order.
  • Consult a librarian. We work across the disciplines, will refer you if necessary, and can help track down sources, explain library services, interpret citations and find the most useful keywords.  The Ask a Librarian service provides 24/7 access to a librarian.

Topic Selection and Research Plan

Consider your research problem:  What do you need to know and what are you trying to find out?  Consider time period, place, person or group, event or aspect.  Choose a topic that interests you!

Decide what types of sources you will need:  books, articles, encyclopedias, maps, newspapers, etc.

Gather background information on the topic:  explore your topic first—maybe start with a subject encyclopedia or other reference book for concise information, such as

     Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, Sci-Eng Lib. Ref  GE149 .E443

or, Wikipedia

Use a question stem, such as those below, to help write a clear, focused research question:

What is/was the role of . . . in . . .

What are/were the effects/results of . . .

Who/what influenced . . . to . . .

What is/was the relationship between . . . and . . .

How does/did . . . change . . .

Search for Information & Put Together a List of Sources

What key terms will you use in searching to help answer this question?

      General, Related Words:                                        Synonyms:

  _____________________________                    _______________________________

  _____________________________                    _______________________________


Books:  provide most detailed background information

Articles:  for more current or specific information.

Search relevant databases using the keywords you came up with, combining synonyms:

( _____________________  OR  _____________________  OR  ____________________ )


( _____________________  OR  _____________________  OR  ____________________ )


Web Resources:  Great research resources: current government research published only on the web.  But be careful: anyone can put up a web page so ask yourself if the site is reliable and accurate: evaluate the information you find.


Other Types of Information:  Statistics, a public opinion poll, maps, photographs, an expert or knowledgeable individuals, an almanac, etc.

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