Improving searches I: Revise your search question

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Improving searches I: Revise your search question

  1. 1. A UST Libraries Information Literacy Tutorial
  2. 2. Revise your search question Does finding an article in a database feel like looking for a needle in a haystack? Are you getting zero results from your searches? In this part of the tutorial, you’ll learn how to revise your search question to get a more relevant and manageable list of search results.
  3. 3. Revise your search question Outline: 1. Too-broad searches 2. Too-narrow searches
  4. 4. 1. Too-broad searches If you have to look through long lists of articles to find one that’s relevant to your research, then your search question might be too broad. How do you narrow it down?
  5. 5. 1. Too-broad searches First, how many terms does your search topic have? If you are looking for information on a single topic, you probably need to consult a reference resource or a book. Reference resources can show you how a topic can be broken down. What are the main aspects of the topic that people have studied? How has this topic been combined with other subject areas? For example: Lincoln => Lincoln AND “Civil War” AND agriculture (note: use quotation marks to search for phrases)
  6. 6. 1. Too-broad searches Is your topic developed enough? A good topic usually combines several elements, such as:  Persons  Places  Texts  Variables  Populations  Approaches  Arguments
  7. 7. 1. Too-broad searches Here are two templates of good topics: 1. What is the effect of [independent variable] on [dependent variable] among [population]? OR 2. What does an application of [approach] to [text] reveal about [historical issue/literary debate]? Of these examples, (1) is more useful for natural or social sciences, and (2) can be used in the humanities.
  8. 8. 2. Too-narrow searches Are you stuck looking for the one article that perfectly fits your topic? Does it seem like no one has ever written anything on your research idea? In this part of the tutorial, you will learn how to broaden your search to get more relevant results, and maybe change the direction of your research.
  9. 9. 2. Too-narrow searches Beginning researchers sometimes make the mistake of looking for one article that covers their entire search topic precisely. Then they mine this article for quotes for their paper, which becomes a restatement of others’ work. A better approach is to use the existing research to learn as much as you can about your subject matter. Then think of ways to add to the current state of understanding and discussion. Look for articles to synthesize and respond to, not articles to simply quote from or summarize.
  10. 10. 2. Too-narrow searches Broaden your search by looking for individual parts of your topic in isolation, or for more general topics. For example, instead of searching for an article on Lincoln AND Sherman (the Civil War general), look for Lincoln materials, then Sherman materials, and synthesize what you find. It might make for an interesting project. If that doesn’t work, look at reference materials on the broader subject (the Civil War). Browsing reference resources, such as academic encyclopedias, can be a good way to find new research topics.

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