Stumped on what to write about or what to research? Try working your way through this exercise to help plan your search for scholarly literature before jumping into a database.
Try thinking about your topic from a broader perspective. Suggested ideas: Preventing, consequence, cause, fixing, solutions, benefits, challenges, effects, impact.
Examples: Benefits of foreign language learning, solutions to chronic homelessness, impact of social media, solutions to obesity.
Try asking yourself any of the following questions in regards to your topic to think about how you want to approach your search.
For example, "college athletes" will only search for the entire phrase "college athletes," or prefer the entire phrase in your results list. Searching for college athletes without the quotation marks will often search for every "college" and every "athlete," or articles with both terms, but not the phrase.
For each concept, think about synonyms or related terms.
Use the Boolean Operator, OR, to connect these synonyms.
An author may use one term and ignore another.
If a thesaurus is available for the database you use, bring in appropriate terms from it as well.
Creating complex searches using multiple search terms allows you to (hopefully) find more relevant literature.
There are three Boolean operators – AND, OR and NOT.
Helps narrow your search.
foreign language requirements AND college
We tell the search to look for all articles that contain both of these phrases “foreign language requirements” AND “college”.
Helps broaden your search. We tell the search that we will accept both possibilities in our search results. Oftentimes, synonyms are linked using OR.
Example: college OR university OR "higher education"
Can help make your search more precise. If a result that is different than what you intended keeps dominating your search results, you can use NOT to remove it.
Example: If you were interested in foreign language requirements in all post-secondary institutions except community college, you could search:
"foreign language requirements" AND (college OR university OR "higher education) NOT community