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Research Starter Toolkit

This guide will help you learn how to use library resources in order to complete your research. Here you will learn how to access library databases, journal articles, books, and more.

How do I Search the Library Databases?

Searching the library databases is different from doing a Google search. The databases require more precise search terms and may not yield relevant--or any--results if a proper search strategy is not used. 


Search Strategy

A search strategy is an organized structure of keywords used to search a library database. The search strategy combines the keywords and key concepts of your research question. Keywords have a profound impact on search results; using the right words will keep your quest for the best sources moving, while the wrong ones can bring to it to a painfully screeching halt.

The single most important part of your search strategy is choosing effective search terms. To identify search terms to use in your search, you'll need breakdown your research question into keywords and key concepts.  

Keywords and concepts are the terms you enter in the database search box(es). Identifying your keywords and key concepts will help you find the most relevant sources in our library databases. You will find the keywords and key concepts in your research question.


Identifying Keywords and Concepts

To identify keywords and concepts to use as search terms, take a look at your research question or thesis statement and highlight the most important words or phrases.  Let's use the example below to see how this works:

Does social media have an impact on the mental health of teenagers?

The keywords are social mediamental health, and teenagers

You probably noticed the absence of “impact” as one of the keywords. “Impact” is certainly an important concept but starting out it will be of more interest to us to see what kind of articles are available on mental health, teenagers and social media in total. Relationships like cause, effect, and impact are often implied by the keywords and are not needed in your search strategy. 


Synonyms and Related Terms 

There may be synonyms for your keywords that can help broaden your search or better describe your topic, not only to make your search comprehensive but to also improve your search results. Since this step can require more creativity it can be useful to brainstorm synonyms with friends or classmates. What other words can describe your main concepts? Start making a list of your alternative keywords and synonyms and have them ready when you start searching. You may need them!

Here is an example:

Search term: synonyms or related terms

social media: instagram, tik tok

mental health: self-esteem, depression, loneliness

teenagers: teens, adolescents, adolescence


Building a Search String with AND

A search string is a combination of search terms and operators you enter into the search box of a library database. The Boolean operator, AND, is used to connect search terms. Like this:

social media AND mental health AND teenagers

Now that you have your search terms (the keywords and key concepts concepts from your research question) and synonyms, use them to search a library database. The more search terms you add to the database search box, the fewer results you'll get back. You are more likely to find useful articles if you start your search with 2-3 keywords connected by AND.

Here's a screenshot of how this will look in the database search box for example:


Video Tutorial

The following tutorial will provide you with a more in-depth overview of how to search the library databases using keywords and how to refine and expand your results:



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