Instead of typing a full question or sentence into a search engine, divide it up into smaller sections of keywords or phrases to use.
Example research question: "How does social media affect children?"
You can break this down in a variety of ways:
|Types of social media
|Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, etc.
|self image, bullying, ability to focus, evaluating information, etc.
|What age children?
|school-aged children, teenagers, etc.
|United States, Australia, North America, etc.
One way to help keep your ideas organized is to create a concept map (or a mind map) that links all of these ideas to your central topic. Then you can mix and match your keywords from that map into search strings of keywords or phrases.
Here are a couple of free websites that you can use to create concept maps:
If you're having trouble finding sources with the keywords you've typed in, try coming up with synonyms to help find different results.
For example, if you were looking for articles about the impact of the price of gas on the economy, you might consider the following synonyms:
|gasoline, fuel, fossil fuels
|finances, economic, fiscal, inflation
|USA, America, North America
Here are a few resources that can help you find synonyms:
In the databases there are a number of search tools, also known as limiters that can help you narrow down your results:
|Online Full Text
This limits to full text only items in that database.
Recommendation: Don't use this unless you're in a time crunch. You can request items through interlibrary loan.
|This limits to sources that have gone through an official peer review process.
|Use this to help limit by date - the last year, 5 years, 10 years, or even a custom range of time.
|Limit by the type of source - article, book, news article, magazine article, trade publication, etc.
|These are the most common keywords that are popping up in your search. Subjects are librarian recognized official keywords.
|If your results list is full of sources in other languages, use this to limit to languages that you can read.
|Use this to limit by location, e.g., the United States.
It's really easy to just open up a search page, look for your topic, and then just pick something from the results page to use. But, what do you really know about that source? Is it really a "good source" to use for your paper?
Whether you're using Google, Google Scholar, or even the library's databases, it is important to evaluate your sources.
Are your searches bringing back too many results?
Are your searches bringing back not enough results?
If your results don't seem to reflect what you're searching for, consider: