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Writing Tutors: Library Resources

Common Topic Problems

Topic search finds too many resources:

  • Focus or narrow your search by adding another key concept to the search statement using AND.

Topic search finds too few or no resources:

  • Expand the focus. Try adding some synonyms or alternative terms for the key concepts using OR.

Your Research Question

As you begin to think about the things you are interested in researching, you will describe your ideas a certain way. As you start doing research, however, new ideas for how to describe a topic will emerge.

From those ideas will come keywords. Keywords are needed to find out more about a topic and especially to locate articles and books on specific topics. Two important strategies in this process are:

  1. Broadening and Narrowing words:
    For example Education is a broad term; high school is narrower.
  2. Synonyms or related words:
    such as Global warming, climate change, etc.


Keywords and Boolean Operators

Divide the topic into a few main concepts

  • Words for main or key concepts are known as keywords—important if initial search attempts don’t find much that’s useful.



Expand the list of keywords to expand results

  • Look through reference sources, subject headings, and article abstracts to expand your list.

Sample topic: Is memory loss related to aging?
The keywords are memory loss & aging

memory loss: alzheimers,amnesia,forgetfulness aging: aged,old age,elderly


Link similar keywords with OR:

boolean OR  AND Boolean OR multiple

Combine these two collections with AND to get a larger search result:

Boolean AND

Developing Your Search

Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder lets you see what topic keywords look like using Boolean logic.

It can provide an idea of how to think about organizing your topic when searching article databases or the library catalog:

  Concept 1 and Concept 2 and Concept 3
Type your main concepts here    
Search terms Search terms Search terms
List alternate terms or synonyms for each concept.

Use either single words, or "short phrases" in quotes













Last modified: December 15, 2015