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ENG 111 (WO)

Create a Search Strategy

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?

Key

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.

For most topics, you will have only two or three 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

The best keywords are specific.  For example, cost could be the price that is paid for anything, but tuition is the cost of education specifically.  So, a search for tuition will give better results than one for cost.

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

EXAMPLES:

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.

Narrow Your Focus

As you begin searching, you may find that your research question is too broad or narrow.  Research is an organic process and sometimes you have to change your original question.

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

"Economy" is a bit vague, and we can narrow the focus to one aspect of the economy, like homeownership.

How is the rising cost of college education impacting homeownership among young adults?

Developing a Search Strategy Helpsheet

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