Chapter 6: Finding Sources

In this chapter you will learn how to create and apply a search strategy to database searching. You will also learn how to use database features to make searching more efficient and effective.

Learning Objectives:

  • Apply research strategies for different research and writing tasks.
  • Identify key concepts and keywords.
  • Create search statements.
  • Search library databases.
  • Utilize database features such as citation tools.

ACRL Frame Alignment:

Key Concepts from a Research Question

Equipped with a focused research question, you are almost ready to do a deep-dive into the literature and scholarly conversations to find evidence to support your thesis. Before you grab your scuba gear, you need to turn your research question into a database friendly search statement. Library databases, unlike Google, do not understand when we search with a question or a long string of words. Databases give the best results when we search using specific keywords and phrases. These keywords, or search terms, come from the key concepts or main ideas of your research question. The key concepts are the most important words or phrases of your research question. You will use these as the basis for developing a list of keywords which will become your database search terms.

Identifying Key Concepts

In order to identify the best keywords to search with, start with the key concepts or the main idea from your research question. Take your research question and pick out the most important words or phrases that really capture the essence of your research question. Key concepts are usually nouns and may be a single word or a phrase.  For example, in this research question what do you think are the key concepts or main ideas?

How can we increase voter turnout within underserved communities?

In this question the two key concepts are voter turnout and underserved communities. Words like increase, benefits, causes, etc. are not considered key concepts. These words are very general and could be applied to many different topics.  Focusing on the key concepts when we search will naturally find information that talks about the importance of and the relationship between the two concepts, so we don’t need to include these words as a search term.


Search Terms

Key concepts can also be search terms (keywords), the words we put into the search box of the database. However, since the library databases will only show you results based on the exact words you type in the search box, it is helpful to brainstorm several different search terms that will yield different search results.  In other words, if I only search using the terms “voter turnout” and “underserved communities”, the database will only show me articles that use those exact phrases.  Most likely there are plenty more relevant articles that use different terminology to discuss those concepts. In order to see those articles in the list of results, I need to try multiple searches using different keywords.  On the next page, we’ll discuss how to brainstorm and develop a list of potential search terms.