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ENGL 1102 Graphic Novels: Topics and Keywords

Constructing a Search Strategy

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. 


What is the Research Topic?


  • Single concept? 
    • Examples: Infrastructure, obesity, foreign language requirements. 
  • Asked question? 
    • Example: What is the role of mobile tech in education? 


Expand on it


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. 


Ask Yourself


Try asking yourself any of the following questions in regards to your topic to think about how you want to approach your search. 

  • What questions do you want to answer? 
  • Where is this an issue? Is it local or global? 
  • Who is the most affected? 
  • Who will benefit? 
  • What is at stake? 
  • What are the costs? 
  • What are the risks or rewards? 


Search Terms

Break Down Your Topic


  • Re-read your topic and identify two or three of the most important parts of the concepts.
    • Try to condense those concepts into keywords -- unique terms that will bring up literature relevant to your search.
    • If you have a term that is more than one word long, put the term in quotation marks.

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. 


Brainstorm Synonyms


  • 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.


Bring It Together 


Creating complex searches using multiple search terms allows you to (hopefully) find more relevant literature. 

  • Use the Boolean Operator, AND, to connect concepts. 
  • Use the Boolean Operator, OR, to connect concept synonyms. 
  • Avoid commonly-used terms like "strategies", "effective" and "research" - this can lead to some misleading results. 



  • “foreign language requirements” AND “college OR university”
  • “suicide AND prevention”




  • Research is a process. 
  • Sometimes it takes constructing several searches to find the most relevant and inclusive results. 


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