Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

COM 270 Research Methods in Communication: Search Tips

Help with doing research in Communication Studies.

Keywords used in Quantitative Articles

These key words are usually found in the abstracts of quantitative scholarly journal articles.  An example of a search would be:

longitudal study AND newspaper subscribers


  • empirical
  • research
  • method
  • instrument
  • reliability
  • validity
  • research design
  • critical theory
  • evaluation
  • practices
  • questionnaire
  • controlled study
  • case study
  • longitudinal study
  • cross-sectional study
  • experimental research
  • quantitative
  • sampling
  • measurement
  • protocol
  • results
  • double-blind
  • analytic
  • cohort
  • chiI-squared test
  • pre-tests & post-tests
  • correlation
  • statistics

First steps for efficient, successful research!

Before you even start to search, it's important to narrow and refine your topic to a simple, meaningful research question or statement.  Otherwise, your search results and project will be too overwhelming and unmanagable. One quick shortcut to narrowing a topic to a managable research question is to ask Who, What, Where, and When in relation to your topic.

Once you have a simple research statement, you will need to identify 2-4 keywords in your statement.  Most of the time, the keywords will be nouns or verbs.  For each keyword, make a list of alternate terms. These terms may be synonyms, broader or narrower concepts, or alternate spellings.  When you search, try alternate keyword combinations.

Search Tips for Library Catalogs & Databases

Subject Search

  • Library catalogs use specific Library of Congress Subject Headings to classify books. When you search, the words have to be typed in the exact order used by Library of Congress.
  • You will find the assigned Library of Congress Subject Headings listed in each book record. The subject headings in each book record are linked. Once you find a relevant subject heading in a book record, you will discover more books on the topic by clicking on the link.
  • Article databases also use a controlled vocabulary similar to Library of Congress, but different databases may use different subject terms.
  • Note: You cannot use operators such as AND or OR , nor truncate with an asterisk * when doing a subject search.

Keyword Search

  • Uses natural language. Type a word or phrase.
  • Use simple words, not sentences.
  • Put quotes or parentheses around phrases when you want to retrieve all of the  words, in the exact order given. Example: “interpersonal communcation"
  • You can expand your search by inserting OR between words.   Example: wiki OR blog
  • You can narrow your search by inserting AND between words. Example: mentor AND communication
  • You can use an to retrieve multiple variants of a word with one  efficient search. Example: communicat*retrieves results with communicate, communicating, communicator, communicates or communication
  • Refine your search Example: (interpersonal OR small group) AND communication


Keywords Used in Qualitative Articles

These key words are usually found in the abstracts of qualitative scholarly journal articles.  An example of a search would be: 

survey AND "facebook advertising"


  • survey
  • interview
  • poll
  • observation
  • case study
  • "action research"
  • "focus groups"
  • ethnography
  • "grounded theory"
  • phenomenology

Select Subject Headings