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Research Guides

Research: A Journey in Small Steps: Home


What Research Means

The key to research is in the word 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 it by revising and practicing.

In this guide, we will focus on step #3, the literal re-searching (and re-re-searching) that gives us a better chance of finding the best resources for our question.

Ways of Thinking About Searching

In the library world, we often refer to the ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) framework for information literacy. A key part of the framework is “Searching as Strategic Exploration” which is described in this way: “Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops” (ACRL)

In other words, research is a kind of exploration. If you plan to explore a city you’ve never been, 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 city in a strategic way will maximize the fun you are able to extract from your adventure.

Five Easy Pieces

Let’s take a look at how this works in practice, five easy pieces:

  1. Look at your research question.
  2. Combine keywords and phrases in a search statement.
  3. Search using this statement.
  4. Examine some of the materials that are returned on this search. Look for subject headings, terminology used in the resources, and different questions raised by those resources. Take notes.
  5. After your initial search, you should have new keywords to help you.

Trade Secrets

Now that we know the five easy pieces, let’s go into three important tips and tricks of the trade:

  1. Use important keywords and phrases that are essential to the question. Think of them as identifying tags. Words like “is,” “good,” “why”, etc., are vague terms that don’t add to a search statement. Use words that have weight, impact, and specificity.
  2. Remember to be careful when using Boolean Operators. These are like conjunctions in a sentence, joining two ideas together. AND is the most important one. If I wanted to look at Tolkien’s use of linguistics as a world building device, I might do a statement like: Tolkien AND linguistics AND world building. There are other Boolean operators worth using, but don’t worry about that just yet, we’ll go into it some more.
  3. Synonyms and cognate 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 fungible terms in articles about the issue.

In the same way that Gandalf knew where to go to begin looking for the information he needed, we also start our information quests at those places where we are most likely to find good results. In this case, library databases.

Now, it’s time for you to go exploring!


Searching and Re-searching

The searching part of the research process where main concepts are converted into keywords and search statements.

Scholarly Communication Librarian / Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science

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Chris Younkin
Sherratt Library 303C
(435) 865-8054