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Research Planning Guide

Use this guide to learn about the research process and plan your research project.

Maximize Your Search Strategy

Try these suggestions to get the most from your search! 

Search terms:

  • Don't use too many words—no more than 3.
  • Think before you search—Is your topic part of a larger subject? Is it related to other ideas? Are there subdivisions of your topic that might be explored?
    • Example: Your topic is "Bulimia."  The larger subject would be "Eating Disorders."  It could be related to "Anorexia Nervosa," or even to "Body Image."  And subdivisions could include how to diagnose the condition, or how to treat it.
  • Ask yourself: do your topic words have synonyms?

Search method:

  • Look for Advanced Search options.
  • Start broad, then narrow your search down—think of a funnel!
    • Example: Start with "Higher Education." Too many results? In the next box, type "Adult Students." If you still have too many results try adding another term, like "Opportunities."
  • Add criteria to your search.  Most databases have options for "full text," "scholarly" (or "peer-reviewed") results, date restrictions, or other limitations. Don't be afraid to play around with these options until you find out what works for you.
  • Use a "Subject Terms" search (see more about this in the "Finding the 'right' word" box in the Special Searches page for Step 7).

Other options:

  • If your topic uses more than one word, try putting quotation marks around the words. 
    • Example: A search for "Information Technology" will yield more focused results than simply using those words alone.  The quotes make the system look for those words together in that exact order.
  • Place an asterisk at the end of a root word to find variations of that word. This is called "truncation."
    • Example: typing comput* will get results for compute, computer, computers, computing, computation, and other words that begin with "comput."
  • Search within your results. Many databases will offer suggestions to further limit your results—usually on the left side of the screen.
  • Learn to "read the interface"—which means that you should take the time to study the database search screen.  Look for toolbars, and scroll down to see more searching options. 

If you're still stuck:

  • Make sure you're using the right database.  There are lots of specialized databases out there.  Use the Subject Search in the A-Z Databases list to discover which databases might work best for you.
  • Look for a Search Tips or Help link on the main search screen.
  • Don't give up—if you don't get the results you were hoping for, try again.
  • Ask a librarian—it's likely we have helped other students looking for the same topic in the past, and we know our way around the databases!