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EDFN 202: Teaching & Learning Process: Search Tips

To turn your research question into keywords, you must look at the main points of your sentence. Pull out the most important words. For example...


 Starting Research Question:
What are effective alternative treatments for veterans with PTSD and will the government cover the cost for alternative treatments? 


The highlighted words would be your keywords. But you shouldn't stop there! Try to expand upon your keywords using synonyms, antonyms, or abbreviations. You can also add places, dates, names, and smaller connecting topics to your keywords. 



Synonyms/Other Terms

alternative treatments

alternative medicine, alternative therapy, holistic medicine, unconventional medicine


retired soldiers, soldiers, vets, military personnel


post-traumatic stress disorder, battle fatigue, post-traumatic stress syndrome, trauma

government cost

insurance, government funding, public finding, public money, government financing


Try using different combinations of these words if you get stuck in your research. Make sure you are also adding to your keyword list as you find new, relevant terms. 

Now create a list of keywords for another topic:

"Excessive social media use has negative effects on the mental health of students."

Once you know your research question, take a moment to think about the different topics it covers. This will help you decide which databases to search. Here is an example: 

Research Question:
What are effective alternative treatments for veterans with PTSD and will the government cover the cost for alternative treatments? 

The obvious databases to start with would be Psychology databases such as: 

But there are many more issues discussed in this research question. You will want to look at Medical databases, including our database of Alternative Medicines: 

You could also include our higher level medical databases if you are prepared for more technical reading: 

There is also a Public Affairs database that could help you find articles on government funding for veterans medical needs and Government catalogs for official documents: 

Too Many Results?

NARROW your topic by...

  • Adding Keywords
  • Using more narrow Keywords (ex: physics vs. quantum physics)
  • Using Limiters (Date, Subject Terms, Location)
  • Using PHRASING (ex: "family law" or "anxiety disorder")

Too Few Results? 

BROADEN your topic by...

  • Getting rid of some Keywords (too many can narrow your search too far)
  • Finding the right search terms (some databases are very picky!) 
  • Broadening your general topic 
  • Choosing different databases
  • Using TRUNCATION when a word has various endings, use an asterisk (*) to search all endings (ex: engineer* = engineer, engineering, & engineers) 

Boolean Operators are used in many library databases. These operators are AND, OR, & NOT. They can help you narrow or broaden your search results.

(AND & NOT = Narrow)

(OR = Broad)

How can you tell if a source is reliable while searching? Take a few minutes to consider these questions.

Authority - Who wrote the article? What qualifications or credentials do they have regarding subject? What is the authors point of view? 

Content - What style of writing is used? Why was it written (to inform, persuade, sell, etc) Is it fact or opinion?

Audience - Who is the intended reader? What reading level is the article (advanced, general)?

Relevance - Is the information too general or too in-depth? 

Citation - Is the article properly cited? Does it have a bibliography or footnotes?

DateWhen was the piece published? Has it been updated?

Review Process - Has the article been reviewed by subject specialists?