Research is a type of exploration. If you plan to explore a new place, part of your adventure will include some strategy: finding the best way to get there, where to eat, where to stay. Approaching your exploration of the place in a strategic way will maximize the fun you are able to extract from your trip. When researching something in college, you explore in depth to learn more about it. You will enter the scholarly conversation on a topic, figure out what these researchers are saying about it, and make sense of it.
When searching for information on a research topic it is helpful to look at the word research itself: literally, to re-search something. A single search is never enough. Rather, the first search is like the first draft in a short story or painting or dance. You will build on that first search by revising and practicing.
Let’s take a look at how this works in practice, focusing on five easy steps:
Identify Keywords: Look at your research question and identify main concepts or keywords in the question.
Create a Search Statement: Combine keywords and phrases into a search statement.
Search: Use this search statement to look for information. For this class you will enter the search statement into a library database.
Learn from the Results: Examine some of the materials that are returned on this search. Look for subject headings or keywords used in pertinent resources, and different questions raised by those resources. Take notes.
Revise: After your initial search you should have new keywords to help you revise your search statement. Try again, find different and hopefully more targeted information.
Research Question: How does social media affect the mental health of teenagers?
Keywords: social media, mental health, teenagers
A search statement for this question may look something like:
“social media” AND “mental health” AND teenagers
Use important keywords and phrases that are essential to the question. Think of them as identifying tags, like social media hashtags. Use words that describe your topic well. Nouns are usually the best choice, followed by verbs. It's usually best to leave out adjectives and adverbs.
Use Boolean Operators. Boolean Operators are like conjunctions in a sentence, joining two ideas together. AND is the most operator as it identifies which keyword combinations should be present in your results. There are other Boolean operators, for more details check here: Keywords and Boolean Operators.
Use quotation marks around keywords that consist of multiple words. For example, by using quotation marks around the phrase “maternal instinct” you assure that those 2 words will appear together, in that exact order, in your results.
Synonyms and related terms are your friend. Very rarely are the words we use singular and absolute. For instance, if I am researching climate change, I might also look at similar terms like “global warming” and “climate crisis” since these are often interchangeable terms in articles about the issue.