Whether you are searching for books in the Five College Library Catalog, or searching for scholarly articles in a library database, it pays to be organized as you start your search. Break dow n searching into a three step process.
Write down as much information about your topic as possible. Answer the following questions:
Then, try to summarize what you are looking for in one or two sentences.
EXAMPLE: I am interested in learning more about the respiration system of the hagfish, and how gills play a role.
Using the information in Step 1, list the main concepts of your topic.
EXAMPLE: hagfish, respiration, anatomical system, gills
Now create a list of synonyms of your key concepts. Think broadly, think narrowly! This step is helping you expand your search by expressing your query in a variety of ways. If you get too many results, then you can work on focusing your search.
You will use the word lists you developed in Step 3 to create search strategies. Use "OR" between synonyms and "AND" between concepts. For instance:
(hagfish* OR myxin*) AND (ventilation OR respir*) AND (gill* OR branchial*)
Download this worksheet (with bonus search tips!) to help you organize your search strategy.