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.
1. 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.
Article databases also use a controlled vocabulary similar to Library of Congress, but different databases may use different subject terms.
2. 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: “carbon footprint"
You can expand your search by inserting OR between words. Example: bee OR apis
You can narrow your search by inserting AND between words. Example: rhizobacteria AND plants
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: (apis mellifera carnica) AND communication