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MUS 221: History of Western Music (Annandale)

This guide supports students in MUS 221 hosted by the Annandale campus. For questions, see Crystal Boyce,

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Creating a Search Strategy

Sources as Evidence

In college, professional, and personal situations you're often asked to inform someone on a topic or persuade them to agree with you about something. Our opinions and experiences are incredibly important sources of information that we use to inform and persuade others. Sometimes, though, you need to find information from other sources to bolster your argument or fill in your knowledge gaps. Using external sources as evidence is a strong way of creating more authority for what you have to say as it demonstrates to others that you aren't making up information.

Searching for sources to use as evidence can be challenging, as we access sources of information in so many different ways and in so many different formats. 

You'll look for newspaper articles in a different way and place than you'd look for a scholarly source. You'll look for websites in a different way and place than you'd look for books. Having a sense of the value of different sources can go a long way toward helping you create a time saving search strategy.

Search Strategies

Here are some questions to ask yourself to begin creating an intentional search strategy.

  1. Do you have to use specific types of sources in your project? Many college assignments require you to use a certain number and types of sources in a paper or presentation. 
  2. Are you looking for sources from a specific subject area, like Music or History or Art? Librarians create and maintain Research Guides to save you time and energy, by highlighting library resources most likely to be helpful and relevant to a broad subject guide.
  3. What are the questions you are hoping to ask and answer in you project? Starting from a place of discovery or curiosity, you can do initial research to learn about potential project topics and then create keywords to use in different source search locations.

Developing Keywords

The following links go to library databases that provide excellent summaries of many topics. Use these to learn about a topic from a credible source and to learn about related ideas, concepts, topics, and questions. From there, you can start to identify keywords to use in search locations.

A database is a collection of information (in our case, sources) that have been organized in such a way as to help you find relevant information faster. Library databases bring together all sorts of sources so you can search for those sources in fewer places. No database can search for everything in a library collection.

Keywords are the terms or phrases you use to search in a database. Some keywords are broad, like "music history," and some are narrow, like "prehistoric musical instruments North America." Both keywords are problematic; the first will give you too many results, the second probably won't give you enough sources. Experimenting with keyword effectiveness is an important part of the research process.

Identifying Keywords

Keyword Examples from a Research Question

Use your research question or topic sentences as a starting point to identify keywords and concepts. Consider the following example. The highlighted terms are central to the question being asked and are important to represent in your search strategy.

How does the music of Shostakovich symbolize his world at the time?

Type AND between each concept shostakovich AND symbolize
Use "quotation marks" around phrases shostakovich AND symbolize AND "soviet union"
Use an asterisk (*) to get words with multiple endings
(symbol* will find articles with symbolic or symbolize or symbolized)
shostakovich AND symbol* AND "soviet union"
Use related terms and synonyms

shostakovich AND symbol* AND russia
shostakovich AND symbol* AND society
shostakovich AND politic* AND "soviet union"

shostakovich AND symphon* AND stalin
shostakovich AND fifth symphony AND stalin
shostakovich AND symphony no. 5 AND stalin

Next Steps

Once you've identified some keywords, next you'll choose where you look for sources based on the kinds of sources you need. Look over the next pages on this guide to learn where to start looking for scholarly books, scholarly journal articles, and other sources.