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ENV201/202 (fall 2020): Researching Environmental Problems: Search Strategies & Tips

Fall 2020: A. Barron

The Deep Web

A vast majority of the web (90%!) cannot be accessed via search engines like Google. (2.26 minutes) From Mashable.

Search Tips

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 down searching into a three step process.

Write down as much information about your topic as possible. (You can use encyclopedias and other reference books to help gather background information). Answer the following questions:

  • What is your topic?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What do you know? What don't you know?

Then, try to summarize what you are looking for in one or two sentences.

EXAMPLE: I would like to learn about the lead in drinking water and its toxic effects including the Flint Michigan water crisis. 

Using the information in Step 1, list the main concepts of your topic.

EXAMPLE: lead, drinking water, toxicity, Flint Michigan

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 focussing your search.







drinking water








Flint Michigan

*=Wildcard; can be used to search for variations

Ex.  pollut*


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:

(lead) AND (water OR drinking water) AND (health) AND (Flint Michigan)

 Watch video (3 minutes):  Crafting a Savvy Search Strategy (UCLA Library)

Boolean & Wildcards

2 short videos introduce Boolean search techniques:

[How Library Stuff Works, McMaster Libraries]

Mind Mapping Worksheet