Skip to Main Content

SDS 236: Data Journalism: Search Tips

Spring 2018: A. McNamara

Search Tips

Searching By Keywords:

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. 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 work being done on the regeneration of the spinal cord in zebrafish.  I am particularly interested in how glia cells are affected.

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

EXAMPLE:  spinal cord, regeneration, zebrafish, glia cells 


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.


spinal cord











*=wildcard; will find variations in a word. In this case, those after the letter "t."

Add other term(s) to further narrow search



glia cells







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:

(spinal cord) AND (regenerat* OR restoration) AND (zebrafish) AND (glia cell*)

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

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Find Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Reference Universe

Wikipedia:  Provides useful back-ground information, but be a critical user of this information.  Evaluate and verify.