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 about the lead in drinking water and its toxic effects.
Using the information in Step 1, list the main concepts of your topic.
EXAMPLE: lead, drinking water, toxicity
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:
(lead) AND (water OR drinking water) AND (health)
Watch video (3 minutes): Crafting a Savvy Search Strategy (UCLA Library)