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ENG 103/201: Composition

This guide will introduce you to the steps of the research process and resources relevant to College Reading & Writing students.

Building a Search Strategy

In order to start searching for information, you'll need to have a strategy. You are already familiar with the basics of "keyword searching:" have you noticed that you get better results in Google if you use only the key concepts for your question? Or perhaps you've searched for something while shopping online and realized you had to switch your search terms up because you weren't finding the right item - that's a search strategy!

You'll want to do the same thing when searching our library databases. Plus, in our library databases there are several additional tricks you can use to make your search the best possible.

Part of your search strategy should be thinking about all the words that might be related to your topic. That way, when you do a search and get too many, too few, or irrelevant results, we have alternative terms to switch out or add on to change our results. Let's imagine we're researching how climate change is affecting the Southeast North Carolina coastline.

  • What are the big ideas related to my topic? Climate change, Southeast North Carolina, coastline
  • What are some words that are synonymous with those big ideas, related to those ideas, or are bigger or smaller approaches to those ideas? For climate change, you might think of global warming, temperature, or hurricanes. For Southeast North Carolina, you might think of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, or New Hanover County. For coastline, you might think of beach, coastal erosion, coast, or flooding.

Once you've built a keyword bank, you have something to draw from - whatever language you put in is going to dictate the results the databases give you.

Watch the video below to learn more.

Tips & Tricks

Here are a few tips and tricks to hack your search strategy.

Boolean Logic (AND, OR, NOT) and parenthesis

  • You can think of it like ordering a pizza. "Hello, I would like to order a pizza with..."
    • Pepperoni AND mushrooms = each slice will have both pepperoni and mushrooms
    • Pepperoni OR mushrooms = some slices may have both pepperoni and mushrooms, while some may have one or the other
    • Pepperoni NOT mushrooms = each of your slices will have pepperoni, and none of the slices will have mushrooms
    • (Pepperoni AND mushrooms) AND soda = the request for pepperoni and mushrooms is grouped together so each slice will have both toppings + each slice will also come with a soda

Phrase searching 

  • When you're searching for a phrase (like climate change), you'll want to put that phrase in quotation marks ("climate change"). Searching for just climate change, not in quotes, would give me some good results, but will also retrieve items that mention climate and change separately and may not be relevant.

Truncation using wildcards 

  • If your keyword is a root word (say, the word child) and you'd like to search for words that include that term, you can add an asterisk at the end of it. Child* will bring up results that mention child, but also childhood, childcare, children, etc.

Field Searching

  • Changing the field (e.g. title, abstract, author) in which you are running your search can allow you to search for terms in specific parts of an item.

Subject Searching

  • Keyword searches let you search for anywhere a term appears in the text of an item, even if it's only once. To search the "aboutness" of a source, you can use the Subject field to search for terms that describe the focus of the sources. These are usually controlled vocabularies, meaning they are preset terms. In the case of college research, that vocabulary is usually Library of Congress Subject Headings. You can search the LoC directory to find Subject Headings related to your topic, but there is also often a filter for subject built into our databases.

Filters and limits

  • Most of our databases have filters and limiters that can narrow down your results. Some of those include filtering by item type (e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles, magazines, books), limiting to a certain publication date range, and filtering by full-text access.