Plan your search strategy before you begin!
What kinds of sources do you need? Where are you most likely to find them? Which keywords are most descriptive of your topic, and therefore most likely to yield useful information? If you take the time to answer these questions before you begin searching, you are likely to experience less frustration as you navigate the web, library databases, and library catalog.
Identify information sources that will provide the most credible & relevant information.
Advantages: books from university presses and academic publishers present scholarly research in depth. They are especially useful for background information and may help provide context for your topic.
Disadvantages: it may take years for a book to be written, edited, and published. For this reason, the most recent information about a topic may not be included even in a recently published book.
Advantages: articles from scholarly periodicals very often go through a process called peer review, during which time the information is validated and edits are made for improvement. They often contain original research and data harvested from that research, and they provide a more focused treatment of a topic than a book.
Disadvantages: because of their narrow focus, scholarly articles are not the best resource for general interest topics, and because the peer review process takes some time, they may not contain cutting edge information.
Advantages: websites may provide up-to-the-minute information about current topics. Government reports and statistics, a useful source of data for supporting a thesis, are published online by the government agencies that produce them.
Disadvantages: because there is no formal quality control on the internet, websites may contain biased, outdated, or inaccurate information. Some scholarly publishing is made available for free on the open web, but only a fraction of what is produced.
Combine keywords and phrases to find sources that closely match your topic.
Image adapted from Choosing and Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research
by Ohio State University Libraries
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Choose keywords carefully, and identify synonyms for your keywords.
For example: How does global warming affect the economy in poor countries?
This is the most common but most inefficient method.
Natural language searching does not work well with the library catalog or research databases.
For example: "global warming" instead of global warming
This produces fewer but more focused search results.
For example: “global warming” + economy
Keyword searching is more efficient than natural language searching.
It may still be somewhat inefficient when searching online.
Use advanced search functions for more precise searches.