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ENGL 1B-Martinez, A.: Research Strategy

Understanding Your Assignment

Before you begin your research, review your assignment. 

 Ask Yourself:

  • How many sources do you need?
  • What types of sources you need?
    • Books, articles, or websites?
    • Do they need to be scholarly journal articles? 
  • What citation style are you required to use?
    • Keep track of your sources

Library Terms

Abstract: a short summary of an article in an academic journal, usually appearing at the beginning of the article.

Catalog: an online listing of all the materials a library owns with a detailed description of each item and information on where they are located.

Citation: basic information about a specific source; a citation for a book includes author, title, publisher, place of publication and year of publication.

Database: a collection of organized information; Academic Search Complete is an example of an electronic database.

Journal: a publication that contains scholarly articles written by professors, researchers, or experts in a specific area; also called scholarly journals, academic journals and peer reviewed journals.

Periodical: a publication that appears on a continual and predictable schedule; examples include newspapers, magazines and journals.

Reference books: books such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and handbooks; these books provide key sources of information.

The Research Process

opposing viewpoints screencap

1. Develop your Research Topic

  • Discuss your Research Topic with your Instructor to get ideas.
  • Use Opposing Viewpoints to browse topics and get ideas.

Example research question and keywords

2. Select Keywords from your Research Topic

  • Use Keywords for searching for Books/eBooks and the Article Databases.
  • Think of other words that could describe your topic

example EBSCO search

3. Search the Library's Resources

Search for Books & eBooks: 

  • Books & eBooks provide background research.
  • Background research gives you an overview and helps you to understand the main topic points.
  • Keep track of your sources and citations as you find them.

Search the Databases to find Articles: 

  • Add Keywords to focus your search so that your topic is not too broad or too narrow.
  • Getting too many results? Try narrowing your search by publication date range, so you get the most current results.
  • Keep track of your sources and citations as you find them.

refine results example

4. Evaluate your sources

  • Ask yourself, do the sources fit and support your Research Topic?
  • Are they scholarly or popular sources that fit the assignment requirements?

citation example

5. Create your Works Cited or Reference page

  • A Works Cited or Reference page list your sources and citations.
  • It shows where you got the information to support your Research Topic and gives credit to that person or organization.
  • It also shows that you did not plagiarize or copy someone else's work.

Keywords and Synonyms

Example research statement

1. Create a Research statement

This can be in the form of a question or a sentence. Just think about what you want to research and write it down in one sentence.

Highlight keywords in research statement

2. Identify the Keywords

Look at your research statement. What are the main words or concepts? They will likely be nouns, and can include phrases. Highlight them.

List of synonyms for keywords

3. Think of synonyms

Look at the words/phrases you highlighted and think of synonyms or alternate phrases to describe those concepts. Scholarly articles often use words that we wouldn’t use in ordinary life.

Searching in EBSCO- use each search box for each concept

4. Search in the databases

Pick two or three words/phrases from your list. Put each concept in its own search box.

Another search strategy alternative using other synonyms

5. Search again!

Try different combinations of words to get different results. Add more words to narrow down your results. Look at the “Subject” headings for each article to see what keywords are being used the most.

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators venn diagram




Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics

Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied. 

  • For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between your search terms.
  • Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
  • For example, this search:  college students test anxiety  is translated to:  college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records.
  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific.
  • For example:  "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be.

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms
  • example:  cloning NOT sheep
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