Subject Guides

English for Multi-Linguals (EML) Library Guide

Useful information for EML students about how to use the library and do research for your classes.

Guide Contents

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Megan Benson
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How to Approach Research

There are may ways to approach research. Here are just a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Be flexible
  • Think about who might create information on your topic
  • Brainstorm synonyms (you describe your topic one way, but someone with a different perspective might describe it differently)
  • Use the advanced search option
  • Use connecting words AND, OR, NOT 
  • Keep track of your results (citation management tools like Zotero can help with this)
  • Consider information skeptically, but keep an open mind

Research is an inherently exploratory process. To learn more about the searching mindset and strategies for exploration, see our "Searching as Exploration" tutorial. To access this content, you will need to log in with your BU login.

Background Research

It might seem odd to research before your research for your assignment, but it's really important in order to understand what scholars have already said about the topic and to see what is out there - some topics are so new that there isn't a lot of research published yet. 

One good place for background research is Wikipedia. Yes, really! Wikipedia has come a long way from it's beginning and there are many standards that have to be met in order for edits to be made. The thing to know about Wikipedia is that you should not use only Wikipedia, but use it as a way to find out more information. 

One way to find more information is to use a browser extension tool called LibKey Nomad that will allow you to download articles that are linked to on the internet directly from that page. For more information, check out the Libkey subject guide. 

Picking Your Topic

Break the topic into simple subtopics

All topics can be viewed from several angles. What are the smaller questions that will help create an answer to the primary question?

Who are the people affected by your study?
age, ethnicity, gender, profession, company/industry

What are the components or aspects of the topic will you explore?
causes, effects, diagnosis or treatment, problems, trends

Where does your topic fit?
Is there a specific country, state, county, city, or country in which your topic fits geographically? Can the "where" be defined by a broader regional concept such as urban/rural, global/local? Can there where also define your population - such as college campuses, prisons, elementary schools?

When did the issue or event become important?
a specific century/decade/specific time span are you going to need the most current information available? Historical information? Both?

Why is this topic important? What is significant about this issue?
articulate the possible approaches and select the best one for your needs.

Which disciplines or occupations would be interested in the topic or analyze it in their literature?

Many research topics are interdisciplinary and the disciplinary focus will determine the appropriate tools to use to locate information.

For example, for the question: How have dolphins adapted to climate change? you could look within the following fields:

  • biology
  • environmental studies

Make sure you understand the basics of your topic. If it is new to you, familiarize yourself with the basic terms, people, events, statistics and foundational information.

Reference books such as encyclopedias and handbooks will offer short articles for exactly this purpose.

See the Encyclopedias page, the subject guide best related to your area, or ask at the Research Help desk to help you locate one.

Write out your working thesis as a statement or research question


Formulate a thesis that is consistent with the evidence you find. It should be of significance to the discipline and supportable by the evidence.

As you gather information, you will formulate new questions and possibly even change the focus of your research, so your thesis may change.

If the issue is a controversial one, your thesis should reflect the position you are taking. A strong research paper will reflect both sides of an argument, and researching this is an important part of gathering background information.

For further reading:

Once you have developed your thesis, you are reading to start searching in earnest and our search strategies page can get you started. Keep in mind that research in usually not a linear process - based on what you discover when you research, you may end up revising or even changing your thesis altogether.

Connecting Words

Connecting words (AND, OR, NOT) can be used to connect search words in order to search more effectively. It is recommended that you capitalize them when searching the Library website (Find It). Below are examples using each connecting word and visuals of how they work. 


  • Useful for narrowing your results (because all search terms must be present in the resulting records).
  • Ex: bridges AND history AND civil engineering (the black triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search).
  • Note: Most search engines and databases will assume your search terms are connected with AND.


  • Useful for broadening your results (because search results may contain either or both search terms).
  • Ex: university OR college OR higher education (the entire Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search).
  • Note: OR is especially useful if your search terms have synonyms.


  • Excludes results with whichever search term follows it.
  • Ex: mercury NOT planet (the dark green section in the Venn diagram represents the result set for this search).
  • Note: The order of your search terms matters when using NOT (results with the second search term will be excluded).