In This Guide
Creating a Search Strategy
Once you’ve decided on a topic for your project, it’s time to create a search strategy. Make a list of keywords that relate to your subject. Think about synonyms and other ways to phrase your topic. The specific words you search for matter. The most effective terms in one database may not be as effective in another database.
This part can be challenging if you don’t know much about your topic yet. If you’re having trouble thinking of words or phrases related to your topic, try doing some basic background research.
Once you have a topic and a strategy, you need to decide where to search for information. There are three types of tools that you may find useful.
- The Library Search
- Use this to find books, articles, movies, music, scores. Also useful if you already know the specific item you’re looking for.
- General Databases
- Great for finding peer-reviewed articles on a topic. Especially useful for multidisciplinary topics.
- Subject Databases
- These databases cover a single academic discipline.
The Library Search
The search box on the library’s homepage finds books, multimedia, and articles, either online or in the building. It is an excellent place to start your research. For more detailed information on IC Library’s search, see How To Use Library Search.
Remember to consider alternate terms that might be used and include them in your search with "OR."
Let’s say you’re researching reforestation projects in tropical rain forests. You could do a search like this:
reforestation AND (rainforest OR tropics)
If you’d rather not type all those ANDs, ORs, and parentheses, you can use the advanced search and enter your terms on multiple lines. Advanced search also gives you options for limiting by material type, language, and date.
Use the limiters in the "Tweak your results" area to narrow your search. You can limit your results by resource type (books, articles, videos, and more), creation date, and other criteria. There’s also a limiter for peer-review.
These are databases that contain articles from many different subject areas. They’re especially useful for cases where your topic doesn't fall neatly within a single discipline. Even if your topic doesn’t seem multidisciplinary, searching a general database may reveal articles from unexpected sources. Some good general databases are:
These are databases that contain only works in a particular (usually broad) subject area. The library offers dozens of discipline-specific databases. In certain fields, you will need to use one of these databases to find the best sources. PubMed, for instance, is a must-search for medical topic as is SciFinder for chemistry.
If you’re not sure which to use, see our Subject Guides for suggestions or ask your instructor.