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How to do research


Choosing Search Terms

When you're doing research, think about your assignment. What is your argument? What do you want to write about? These things become your search terms.

If you're writing an essay to persuade your reader that Confederate monuments should be taken down, first you'll need to break down this argument into simple phrases, like Confederate monuments and monuments taken down. You might be able to find some results if you type in the whole sentence, but search engines work best when you break your search down into keywords or phrases.

It's also helpful to brainstorm synonyms or similar words to the important ones in your topic. For example, for Confederate monuments, you could also search Confederate statues or Confederate memorials. For taken down, you could use removed or destroyed. You'll find more relevant results if you try similar words!

If you're having problems thinking of similar words, do some searches and see what words the authors of the results are using!

Other Database Search Tips and Tricks

  • Phrase searching: if you're looking for a phrase with multiple words, it's helpful to enclose them in quotation marks to make sure that exact phrase is found in your results.
  • Truncation: if you're searching for a term with a variety of endings, you can use an asterisk to include all of the possibilities in your results. For example, searching for child* would give you results with child, children, and childhood.
  • Wildcard: Wildcards are similar to truncation. If you insert the wildcard symbol, one letter will be replaced with a wildcard. This is useful for words spelled in different ways, for example: wom?n would result in womenwoman, and womyn. Most often, a question mark is used for a wildcard, but this will vary by search engine.
  • Advanced Searching: Be sure to check the "advanced search" page of whatever search engine you're using! You'll have the option to limit your results by date which is really helpful if you need articles from a specific time frame (like within the past 5 years.) The advanced search page also has many different options for you to try, like searching by author or name of journal.