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WR122 Pesznecker

A Course Guide for Sue Pesznecker's fabulous WR122 students.

Write out your research topic/thesis statement

The first step to brainstorming search terms is having an initial topic or thesis statement to work with. Not there yet? Spend five minutes choosing a focused topic, then come back here.

Ready?

Step 1. Take a piece of paper or open up a document and write down your topic or thesis statement.

Example:

Research question: What is the relationship between COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and vaccination rates?

Step 2. Circle or highlight the most important individual ideas that make up your topic.

Example:

Research question with key terms circled: COVID-19, vaccine misinformation, and vaccination rates.

Words you don't need to search for and why: 

  • it, to, and, of - articles and prepositions can usually be ignored because they are so common.
  • should, be, use, for, relationship - adjectives and words that indicate a relationship between two ideas can usually be ignored because they may eliminate otherwise relevant results from your search. The more search terms you add to your search, the fewer results you will get.
  • pro, con, for, against - rather than using words that convey opinions about topics, use nouns that help you learn about your topic(s) from every angle.

Add quotation marks around phrases

Step 4. Look for terms that are phrases, meaning more than one word. Place quotation marks around these phrases.

Brainstormed search terms. COVID-19, coronavirus, COVID pandemic. Vaccine misinformation, conspiracy theories, rumors, disinformation. Vaccination rates, immunization rates. All two-or-more-word phrases have quotation marks around them.

What does this do?

These quotation marks will force the database or search engine to search for your phrase exactly as you have it written, rather than separating and searching for each word individually. Remember, you do not need to add quotation marks around single words.

What are Boolean operators?

Boolean operators are words that we use to link two or more keywords while searching. Linking your keywords with the words AND, OR, and NOT help to expand or narrow the results you get while searching. 

 

AND

  • AND tells the catalog or database you are searching in that you are requiring both terms to be in your results. Linking two keywords with the word AND ensures that all of your search results have keyword #1 AND keyword #2.
  • Use this Boolean operator when you are comparing, contrasting, or otherwise relating two keywords!
  • Example: "peanut butter" AND jelly 
    • Will only show me results that contain both peanut butter AND jelly 

 

OR

  • OR tells the catalog or database you are searching in that you are okay with either keyword (or both keywords) appearing in your search results. Linking two keywords with the word OR ensure that all results with have either keyword #1 OR keyword #2 OR both.
  • Use this operator to find information about any of your keywords when you do not need one resource to contain every keyword you search.
  • Example: "peanut butter" OR jelly
    • Will return results that include peanut butter, jelly, and peanut butter and jelly

 

NOT

  • NOT tells the catalog or database you are searching in that you only want results containing one keyword, but NOT the other. Linking two keywords with the word NOT will only return results containing keyword #1 but NOT keyword #2.
  • Use this Boolean operator when you have noticed that searching for keyword #1 also returns results about keyword #2, but that is not what you are looking for.
  • Example: "peanut butter" NOT jelly
    • Will return results that contain peanut butter, but NOT results that contain jelly.

 

 

Three venn diagrams. Peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter or jelly. Peanut butter not jelly.

Image credit: Slippery Rock University

Build a strategic search

Now you have a list of important words and phrases. These are your search terms - what the library catalog or database will use to find you awesome articles, books, and more.

But beware! Do not dump all of these words into a search box. Use the library catalog or database’s Advanced Search tools to organize your ideas and build a strategic search. For help with this, contact a CCC Librarian or try out our Search String Builder (linked below).

Search terms expertly used in CCC Library's catalog Advanced Search page.

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