Start with Your Research Statement or Question
Take a look at your research question or statement and note the main terms.
What is the effect of sleep deprivation on the grades of post-secondary students?
Words highlighted in green are the main terms.
Think of synonyms or related words. E.g.:
Be sure to consider:
Brainstorming keywords doesn't stop!
As you research your topic, be sure to make note of relevant search words that you come across along the way.
Short video of tips from Brock University Library.
A keyword search is a great way to start your search.
Narrow or broaden your keyword search by using search strategies such as:
Using Phrase Searching
When do you use it? When you want specific words to appear together.
How do you do it? Put quotation marks around the phrase to be searched.
Example: "women in advertising"
When do you use them? Use synonyms to broaden or narrow your search.
- "women in advertising"
- "females in advertising"
These searches would give you different results.
What do you use connectors (also called Boolean operators) for?
To broaden or narrow your search by linking together two or more terms.
The most common connectors are: AND, OR, and NOT.
AND narrows a search; you get fewer results because both words must be present in the records found.
Use AND to combine different concepts in one search:
computer AND history
OR broadens a search; you get more results because OR looks for each of the words separately, as well as all words when found together.
OR is often used to link together related words.
Example: teenager OR youth OR adolescent
NOT narrows your search; you get fewer results becuase it excludes terms from your search.
Example: pluto NOT disney
Nesting keeps concepts that are alike together, and tells a search engine to search the terms in the parentheses first.
Use parentheses to group concepts when you use two or more connectors.
Example: alcohol AND (adolescents OR teenagers)
This search will retrieve records on alcohol and adolescents, as well as records on alcohol and teenagers.
Truncation characters are like wildcards.
Adding a truncation character to the stem of a word will tell the search engine to find that stem plus anything that comes after it.
Example: child* will return records that contain child
This saves you time when searching, since you don't have to search for child, childhood, and children separately.
You can sometimes use truncation in the middle of a word, too.
Example: wom*n or wom$n will return records that contain women and woman
The symbol used to truncate a word depends upon the search tool you are using. Check out the help feature of the specific tool to find out if truncation is supported and what symbol to use.
Subject searches are more focused than keyword searches and can provide more accurate results.
Library catalogues and most article databases support subject searches.
Most library catalogues and article databases will let you search by subject.
The advantage of subject searching is a more focused search.
However, when you start, you likely will not know what pre-determined subject terms describe a topic.
Here are some examples of database subject terms generated from a search for "marketing to children":
And here is an example from the Library Catalogue:
A good strategy for subject searching is:
A subject search can be especially useful for finding out about authors, rather than finding works by the author. E.g., books or articles about Oscar Wilde rather than works by Oscar Wilde.
Choose a Subject search vs. a Keyword search in the Library Catalogue or an article database to see the difference.
The type of tool you use to search will change depending on the kind of information that you need.
Generally, you will find books and DVDs in the Library Catalogue, articles in an article database, and websites through a search engine.
However, there are sometimes exception to the rule; you may find articles listed in some library catalogues and you may find book chapters indexed in an article database.
Use the library catalogue to find:
Use an article database to find:
Use a search engine to find:
The type of information you need will change depending on the question you are trying to answer.
Information goes through a process as it moves from new discovery to established knowledge. This process is called the information cycle.
Once you know how information gets produced, it can help you to decide which sources to use when doing research.
It is important to understand the information cycle because it affects where you will find information on a particular topic.
For instance, information about AIDS is much further along in the cycle than information about Avian Flu, because it has been around for much longer. Therefore, there will be many more books and encyclopedia articles about AIDS than about Avian Flu.
Here is a timeline of how a story or event evolves through the media. For example, think about where you get your information during and after an election:
Radio/TV/Internet... up to the minute or same day
Information on an event will likely appear here first, because it can be published quickly; however, it is not always detailed or accurate because people are anxious to get the information published as quickly as possible.
On the day of the actual election, you watch the results on TV, listen to them on the radio, or check them on the Internet.
Use a website:
Newspapers... at least by next day
Information usually appears here next, although generally not until a day after the event at the earliest because of their publication cycle. The information is usually a little more detailed and potentially more accurate than earlier sources.
The day after the election, you can read all the coverage in the newspapers.
Use a newspaper:
Magazines... weeks later
Information usually appears here a week to two weeks after an event. It will likely be more detailed than newspaper accounts.
Within the next couple of weeks, most of the weekly newsmagazines will also carry coverage of the election.
Use a magazine:
Scholarly Journals... months to years later
Research by the experts and analysis of an event usually appears here six months to a year after an event, both because of the time it takes scholars to do the work and because these publications appear less frequently, sometimes only four times a year.
Use a journal:
Books... years later
Quality information usually takes a year to two years to appear in book form (not counting “unauthorized accounts”), because of the length of time required to research and write a work of this length, and because it takes quite a bit of time to publish.
It will take several months to years before political scientists study what happened in the election and write about it in scholarly journals and books.
Use a book:
Reference Books... years later
Information usually takes quite a while to appear here, partly because these sources often wait for knowledge to become fairly well-established before acknowledging it, and partly because they’re only published once every several years.
It may take several years before the encyclopedia records the most recent Prime Minister of Canada.
Use a reference book: