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

Fall 2020: A. Barron

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 more about climate change and drought in California (Los Angeles).  


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

EXAMPLE: drought, water scarcity, California (Los Angeles)


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.

climate change

global warming





water scarcity

water conservation





Los Angeles





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:

(climate change or global warming) AND (drought or water scarcity) AND (California or Los Angeles) 

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