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
- Use boolean operators (see below)
- Keep track of your results (citation management tools like Zotero can help with this)
- Consider information skeptically, but keep an open mind
- 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).
Tips and Tricks for Effective Searches
- Use quotation marks to search for exact phrases
- This works in almost every database and search engine, including Google.
- Truncation is represented by an asterisk (*)
- Enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with an *
- Ex: comput* finds results with computer, computing, computation, computational, etc.
- Truncation can also be used between words (ex: a midsummer * dream will return results that contain the exact phrase, “a midsummer night’s dream”)
- A wildcard is represented by a question mark (?) or a pound sign (#)
- Using ? as a wildcard will only return results in which the wildcard is replaced by another character (ex: ne?t will find results containing neat, nest or next, but it will not find results with net)
- Using # as a wildcard will return results with or without an extra character (ex: ne#t will find results containing neat, nest, or next as well as results containing net)
- Proximity searches look for search terms that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other.
- Proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched
- Near Operator (N) – N5 finds the words if they are within five words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.
- Within Operator (W) – W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them. Ex: the results for tax W8 reform would include “tax reform” but would not include “reform of income tax”.