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- Keep your searches simple (at least at first)
- Break down complex questions into different parts
- Brainstorm different ways to describe what you are looking for
- Remember that research is an iterative process (do multiple searches with different combinations of terms and using different strategies)
- Learn from your search results (there is no such thing as a "failed" search)
- Keep your research organized (for example, keep a list of search terms you've used or have not yet used)
Sample Searches to Learn From
Example topic: Do video games make teenagers more violent?
Sample search 1: Searching with a phrase based on research question
Sample search 2: Searching by identifying keywords from research question
Sample search 3: Searching using keywords from research question as well as using other related keywords
Or, how to completely geek-out your searches
X and Y
Searches for both
race AND ethnicity
X or Y
Searches for either
race OR ethnicity
Searches for a phrase
Searches for multiple endings
cultur* (finds culture, cultural, culturally, etc.)
Generating Keyword Process
- Write out your research question. For example: "How does exercise affect the mental health of college students?"
- Pull out the most important words from your research question. exercise, mental health, and college students.
- Think of synonyms for these keywords. Exercise: workout, fitness. College students: university students, post-secondary students.
- Think of broader keywords. Mental health: well-being. Broader keywords are helpful if you aren't getting enough results.
- Think of narrower keywords. Mental health: anxiety. Narrower keywords are helpful if you're getting too many results.
- Start searching a library database with your keywords. Remember to try out different keyword combinations to get the best search results.
- Collect additional keywords as you search.
Search Topic Specificity and Research is a Process
I'm interested in researching the Donner Party and how it relates to The Shining.
Here are some sample searches I might do, note the idea/concept of specificity, the number of searches that might need to occur (research is a process) and the aforementioned search tips being used:
Stephen King Donner party
“Stephen King” Donner party
Stephen King cannibalism
Stephen King cannibal*
The Shining "Donner Party"
The Shining cannibal*
Kubrick Donner party
horror AND cannibal*
(Horror (literature OR genre OR film)) AND cannibal
Overland journeys to the pacific
Picking out keywords from Research Question
1. Both Apt Pupil and The Shining focus on families and imply questions of how children should be raised. After a careful analysis of the family dynamic in either or both these works, do some research on child rearing practices.
2. "Imaginary friends" - also called "imaginary companions" are common with children. What do psychologists think about these "friends." - why do children create them and what do they have to do with a child's development?
3. "What was the Donner party," asks Danny. What was it? Where is it referred to in the novel? How do these allusions enhance the mood of the novel?
Generating Keywords Activity
What is your Research Question?
What are the main concepts in your Research Question?
What are some synonyms (or related terms) for those concepts and your topic?
Work together with your partner to try to help each other generate other keywords.