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Research Fundamentals: Search

A guide to print and online resources for starting your research.

Six Steps for Keyword Searching

  1. Start with a question
    • It helps to write out the research question you plan to explore. This question may change as you learn more about the topic, but starting with a research question will make the following steps easier. 
  2. Identify Key Concepts
    • Key concepts are the main ideas or focus of your research question--the who, what, and where of your topic. Look for nouns (people, places, things). Ignore minor or connecting words in your research question--they won't be very helpful as search terms.
    • Example: Does increased use of hand washing by health care personnel reduce cross-infection rates in hospitals?
  3. Think of Synonyms
    • After you identify your key concepts, try to think of synonyms or related terms for each key concept. This will help you capture results that might talk about your research topic in different ways.
    • Example: health care personnel--medical personnel, physicians, nurses
  4. Use Quotation Marks
    • If any of your key concepts or synonyms are phrases of two or more words, use quotation marks around them to keep them together. Quotes tell the database to look for those words together, in that exact order.
    • Example: "hand washing"
  5.  Link with Boolean Operators
    • After you identify your key concepts and synonyms you will link them using Boolean operators. AND - goes between key concepts and narrows your search OR - goes between synonyms and expands your search 
    • Example: "hand washing" OR handwashing AND nurses OR physicians
  6. Use Parentheses
    • If you use both AND and OR in your search, you will need to put parentheses around the terms linked by OR. This helps the database interpret your search correctly.
    • Example: ("hand washing" OR handwashing) AND (nurses OR physicians)

 

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