Skip to Main Content

SOC4850: Senior Seminar: Search Strategy

What's a Keyword?

Keywords thumbnail image

Keywords are simple words or phrases that sum up your topic, and can usually be pulled from your research question.

Simply eliminate those words and concepts that have no meaning, when on their own (How, does, the, etc.), and you're usually left with 2-3 good keywords to use in your research.

To find information on a topic, you would use one or more of your keywords to search for sources (books, media, articles, etc.) in the library's online catalog or databases.

Tips for Effective Search Strategies

Have a Search Strategy

Having a plan is important for finding the information you need to support your research.  This might include some preliminary reading, knowing what you need to find and where you'll look, as well as knowing who to ask if you get stuck during the process!

Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Searching works best when you have a research topic/question in mind. Always make sure that you you have a topic before starting your search.  Otherwise, you may not really know what you're looking for.  This will guide your selection of search terms and help you to know where to begin searching.
  2. Know your topic. Exploring general sources (a chapter in your textbook, an encyclopedia article or other background reading) is a good way to start. The better you understand a topic, the easier it is to evaluate sources.  This might also help you to identify key concepts, related ideas, and notable scholars on this topic.
  3. What does the assignment require? Your assignment may offer specific instructions for where you can search or what types of sources are appropriate (scholarly articles, websites, etc.).  If not, it's a good idea to ask your professor.
  4. Choose keywords to use in your searching!  Keywords define your research question(s) and are important to successfully finding books and articles for your annotated bibliography and literature review.  As you do your preliminary research, you'll find that some keywords work better than others, and maybe even discover some new ones to add to your list!  Think about your research variables and population when choosing keywords, and be flexible as you find new concepts to include.  Check out our Keywords tutorial for more information, or talk to a librarian for additional guidance.
  5. Start early. Until you have done some searching and reading, you might not recognize if your topic is too broad or narrow.  It may also be difficult to get the sources you need right away (not everything is online!) so you may need to allow yourself time to request materials from other libraries through Interlibrary Loan.
  6. Ask a Librarian.  If you aren't sure of where to begin, or you're not finding the information you're looking for, librarians can help.  We can show you how to adjust your searching or point you to useful resources.  Find important information on our Contact Us page.

Try the Thesaurus

Need More Specific Results?

Sometimes keywords that worked well in one database won’t be as effective in another.  If you find that your results are a bit scattered, try using that database’s terminology:  the Thesaurus or Subject Terms link.  Many databases have a list of designated words that are used to summarize a topic, but they may not be obvious to you.


Truncation Finds Multiple Word Forms

The asterisk (*) is usually used, to search words with the same root:

        Sociolog* =  Sociology, Sociological, Sociologist(s), etc.

Wildcard symbols (usually a ‘?’) replace a single letter:

        Wom?n = Woman, Women

Trace Your Sources

When you find an interesting article, make sure you get the citation information!  Write down this information so that you (and your professor) can find the article, again.

Many databases offer the option to email a link to yourself, you can use a tool like RefWorks to keep track of your citations, or you can even save the full article in many cases.

Either of these options will make life a lot easier when it comes time to write your final paper.