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Research and the Library: Using Resources WISely: Research Basics

This tutorial and module will guide you through the process of library research.


Brainstorming will help you come up with a research topic and keywords for you topic question.  Use your textbook, social media, etc., to find something of interest to you that you want to learn more about; this will make the research process more enjoyable.  When brainstorming, always start broad, and then narrow your topic.  If you start with a topic that is too narrow, it can initially be difficult to find material.  There are no wrong answers in brainstorming; if you find that some of your keywords aren't generating results, go back to your list and try again.  

Mind Map: Keyword Brainstorm. With Food Security as the central topic, 8 subtopcs are genetically modified crops, food sovereignty, climate change, food deserts, sustainable agriculture, food justice, malnutrition, population growth

Choosing Your Keywords

Tips for Choosing Keywords

  • If you have not chosen a topic yet, try using some of the concepts or terms you learned in class, read in your textbook, or found online to see what's out there.
  • If you already have a topic or research question, find the main concepts from your topic or question and use those as keywords.  These are the "big ideas" for your topic.
  • Think of synonyms for your keywords, because some authors may have used different terms.
  • NOTE: If your keywords are too broad, your search may get too many results.  However, if your keywords are too narrow, it may not return enough.  Don't be afraid to experiment with your keywords!
  • PRO TIP: When you find a good resource on your topic, look at the keywords for it and the terms the author uses.  You can use these for future searches.
  • Once you have chosen your keywords, what other words may help with your searching?
    • Broader Terms expand on your original concept and may be less specific than your key concept. 
    • Related Terms are synonyms and other words/phrases that directly relate to your key concepts.
    • Narrower Terms are more specific than your key concepts. These terms may include events, names, places, etc.

Example: How does food insecurity affect mental health?

Keyword Broader Terms Related Terms Narrower Terms
food insecurity   food security, malnutrition food deserts, hunger

mental health health psychology, stress, emotion anxiety, depression, trauma

Boolean Search Logic

Boolean Search Operators are the basics of all library searching.  When used along with your keywords, they can broaden or narrow your search results.  The table below outlines what each operator does.  The purple in the diagrams below show which keywords will be found in your search results.

If you type your research question into a database, it will search for every word in your question.  This will bring you many results, most of which will have nothing to do with your topic.  Using Boolean operators will help focus your search by linking a few of you keywords together.  Your keywords should be what you consider the most important ideas of you topic.  By linking these together with Boolean operators, you will get the results that you are looking for.   

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