How To Do Library Research

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Understanding Keywords

Search databases using keywords, such as concepts or subject phrases, that are linked together by and, or, not  used to to identify articles and sources.   Once you have identified your topic, selecting your keywords is pretty simple.  

  1.  Divide your topic into concepts/segments/pieces.

    In the question, "What is the relationship between women's fashion magazines and anorexia?," the concepts are: women, fashion magazines, and anorexia. 

     
  2. Brainstorm for synonyms and related terms.

    You will need to translate these terms to keywords later when you are searching databases for articles and sources. Even if a combination of words works well in one database, you may have to change keywords to find results in another database. 

Concepts:

women

fashion magazines

anorexia

Related terms:

woman

fashion models

bulimia

 

female

modeling industry

eating disorders


3. Create your search by combining your keywords using and, or, not.

    • And is used to narrow your search. Results returned will contain both sets of keywords.
    • Or is used to expand your search.  Results returned will return either keyword. 
    • Not will limit your search, and will exclude a keyword from the results. 

         You can also use parentheses to combine your search strings:

                     (woman or female) and (fashion magazines or modeling)
 

4.  Follow the database-specific language.

As you do your searching, keep track of the words that appear in the detailed descriptions, or records, of your results list in the fields that will be labeled with headings such as subjects, descriptors, or subject headings.   These synonyms and related terms are the specific vocabulary used to describe your search term in that database or discipline.  Using these in your search can often improve your search results by making it more accurate and efficient/less time.

Types of Information

One of the questions you will ask yourself during the search process is What type of information will best help me answer my questions?  Thinking about the type of information you are looking for will determine how you search for that information, where you look for it, and what tools you use.

Examples of different types of information and where to find it include:

You may also want to consider sources outside of your traditional library such as archives and Special Collections, interviewing knowledgable individuals, businesses, etc.

Publication Cycles

Also consider the publication cycle of information. If you are seeking information on a very current or timely topic, then scholarly articles and books addressing the topic may not be available, but newspaper articles and popular articles may be reporting on the topic because they can be published much faster.

Social media and breaking news coverage will be available on very current topics, but due to the nature of breaking news, accuracy of the information may vary widely.

For more information on understanding the publication cycle, you can can take the online tutorial on Defining and Comparing Different Publication Types.