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English Composition Guide

A supplement to library instruction sessions for EN 1113 (English Composition II), EN 1113H (Honors English Composition II), and EN 1173 (Accelerated Composition II).

Search Strategies

Some topics are easier to write a 5-6 page paper about than others. How do you take a big topic and get down to a narrow research question or thesis statement?  Once you have decided on a topic, how do you find resources?  Below you will find helpful tricks to begin searching on the topic. 

 

Two types of searches will help locate books: the 'SUBJECT' and 'KEYWORD' searches. 

The Subject Search 

Use this search when looking for books about a subject, such as genetically modified foods (GMO's). If you are looking for information on an author, you will enter the author's name (last name, first name). 

 

The Keyword Search 

Use this search when looking for resources that you do not know the subject heading for. Keyword searching will search the entire text. 

Example: If you are searching for social media - the catalog will search for the words social and media anywhere in the document. To get the results you need, put the two words in quotation marks - 'social media.' 

 

Phrases: 

You will need to add quotation marks at the beginning and end of phrase.  You may use quotation marks for article & book titles too, when searching. 

Example: “Figure of Speech” 

 

To begin searching:

  1. Start big, get smaller. 

  • Begin with your general area. What interests you about it? What more do you want to know? How much information is out there? 

  • As you explore, you'll see some ideas stand out more than others. 

  • What are some other words or terminology to describe it? 

  1. Use Boolean Operators to broaden or narrow your search. 

  • Use "AND" to connect terms (search results must have both/all the words). 

  • Example: “Social Media” AND bullying = results will have everything that has those two words, but not appearing in a resource individually. 

  • Use "OR" to find either/or, and to find alternative terms/synonyms. 

  • Example:  “online education” OR “distance education” = results will include everything that includes the words together or individually in a resource 

  • Use "NOT" to exclude a term from search. 

    • Example: “service dogs” NOT “German Shepherds” = results will include all things about service dogs, but will exclude anything about German Shepherds  

  1. Truncation is known as a 'Wildcard' search. By adding an asterisk (*) to find resources containing all spelled variations of a word or other endings to the root of a word. Be careful because some truncation will give you everything, meaning more than you bargained for. 

  • Good Example: adolescen* = results will include adolescent, adolescents, or adolescence 

  • Bad Example: Mar* = market, marketable, marguerite, marathon, marionette, maraschino, etc. 

 

  1. Use Limiters to Refine Results. 

  • Scholarly/Peer Review: only brings up results that are from designated scholarly/peer reviewed journals. 

  • Subject: Narrow results based on how articles are indexed. 

  • Sometimes a similar topic has multiple subjects (social media, online social network). 

  • You can also browse subjects to brainstorm searches and alternative terms. 

  • An EBSCO Discovery Search will tell you the number of results from individual databases.