BEWARE: Can provide useful background information, but don't believe everything you read! Evaluate and verify.
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:
Then, try to summarize what you are looking for in one or two sentences.
EXAMPLE: I would like to learn more about sanitation in -- Kenya or South Africa or Bangladesh or the United States. I am specifically interested in composting toilets.
Using the information in Step 1, list the main concepts of your topic.
EXAMPLE: sanitation, composting toilets, country [Kenya, South Africa, United States]
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.
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:
(sanitation OR latrine* OR compost* toilet*) AND (South Africa)
Scholarly encyclopedias will provide background information and references as well to other useful resources.