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.|
|Effects what?||self image, bullying, ability to focus, evaluating information, etc.|
|What age children?||school-aged children, teenagers, etc.|
|Where?||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:
|gas||gasoline, fuel, fossil fuels|
|economy||finances, economic, fiscal, inflation|
|United States||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.
|Peer Reviewed||This limits to sources that have gone through an official peer review process.|
|Date Range||Use this to help limit by date - the last year, 5 years, 10 years, or even a custom range of time.|
|Source Type||Limit by the type of source - article, book, news article, magazine article, trade publication, etc.|
|Subject||These are the most common keywords that are popping up in your search. Subjects are librarian recognized official keywords.|
|Language||If your results list is full of sources in other languages, use this to limit to languages that you can read.|
|Geography||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.
So using the Boolean operators AND and OR from the previous nursing example, your search might look something like this:
Nursing Home AND (Patient Care OR Long-term Care) AND (Elderly OR Aged OR Geriatric):
Another way to make your search results more relevant is to apply database filters on the results page. For example, the CINAHL database (in EBSCOhost) has filters for age, inpatient or outpatient, male or female, and so on, that can be applied to your results. These filters are viewable in the EBSCO databases by clicking on the link to Show More, under the date slider bar:
Usually you'll select Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals and English Language:
Consider using limiters to replace some search terms. For example, rather than type in all the search terms for Elderly, you can apply the Age Groups limiter to your search results:
You can always see what terms you've used and what limiters have been applied under Current Search. And you can always remove them if they are too limiting:
At some point, you will be asked to write on or explore a topic that is more in-depth and thus will require a more comprehensive search. This can be a big task. Where do you begin?