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ENG 112: College Comp II - Argumentative (WO): Search Strategy

Identify Keywords

To perform searches, you will need keywords.



Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic...

How is the rising cost of college education impacting the U.S. economy?

First we'll eliminate irrelevant words.  The databases will search for every word that you type into the searchbox, so try to keep your search simple - just a few words. 

How is the rising cost of college education impacting the U.S. economy?

When you eliminate the irrelevant words from your research question, you should be able to spot major concepts.  The three major concepts in our example are cost, college and economy.

Now, let's take each of those and come up with as many synonyms (or related ideas) as we can.

Cost – tuition, “student loans”, “student debt”, “financial aid”

College – “higher education”, “community college”, public, private

Economy – workforce, employment, unemployment, "lifetime earnings", “income inequality”, “middle class”, homeownership

Developing a Search Strategy Helpsheet

With this helpsheet, you can develop an effective search strategy that will save you time and retrieve better results!

Create a Search Strategy

Next, combine any one of the keywords from each group using AND. 


1.      tuition AND college AND "lifetime earnings"

2.      "student debt" AND homeownership

3.      tuition AND "community college" AND "middle class"

4.      tuition AND unemployment

Different combinations of search terms will give you very different results, so try several different search strategies to see which gives you the best results.

Advanced Searching

Sometimes, advanced search techniques can save you time and get you better results than a simple search with two keywords and AND.

To create an advanced search strategy...

  • Use AND to connect concepts. AND finds both terms, so a search for underemployment AND poverty returns articles that talk about both.
  • Use OR to look for synonyms or related ideas.  OR looks for either term, so a search for underemployment OR "part-time jobs" will return results that talk about either of these related ideas.
  • Use NOT to specify words that should not be included in the article. A search for poverty NOT homelessness would find articles that only talk about poverty but never mention homelessness.
  • Use quotation marks [“ “] to search for phrases. A search for minimum wage will automatically look for the terms minimum and wage, but they may not appear beside each other.  For example, "Alexander was able to wage war with deft strategy and keep his losses to a minimum."  This article about Alexander the Great is not at all useful for our paper on poverty.
  • Use an asterisk [*] for truncation. For example, use child* to search for child, children or childhood - any word that begins with c-h-i-l-d.

Finally, you can combine these techniques to create an advanced strategy.  You may have to try several searches to see what works best for your topic.

Example 1:  "minimum wage" AND underemployment

Example 2:  underemployment OR "part-time jobs"

Example 3:  "minimum wage" AND health AND child*

Example 4:  (underemployment OR "part-time jobs") AND millennials

Now, try to form a few search strategies for your own topic!