Identify what subject areas or disciplines might relate to the questions you have.
For example, if your research questions relate to smoking cessation, this could intersect with Psychology, Sociology, Medicine, and Public Health.
Identifying your major subject areas will help you target which databases (online collections of articles and other material) and other collections to search.
Our Research Guides by Subject can help you find the most relevant databases for different subject areas.
You may engage with many different types of content in your research. For example, you might be looking for scholarly articles, statistics, newspaper articles, images, maps, media, conference proceedings, etc.
Each Research Guide has sections on how to find different types of materials. "How Do I?" guides also walk you through how to access specific types of materials, like images, maps and GIS data, and primary sources.
Identify the main concepts involved in your research question. You could break these out in a simple list:
For each concept, brainstorm as many different keywords or synonyms as you can to describe that concept:
Brainstorming potential search terms helps make sure you don't miss relevant research because you used different language to describe your topic. As you start searching, update this list in your research journal with any new terms that you discover.
Most databases give you the option to combine your search terms in different ways. Use these options to broaden, narrow, and refine your search.
Narrowing your search
example: government policy AND air pollution
example: "government policy"
Broadening your search
example: air pollution OR particulate matter OR smog
example: politic* (for politics, political, politically, etc.)
Use different combinations of search terms, and search multiple times! Searching is a practice. You'll need to try different searches and adjust based on your results.
Most databases include Subject Terms as a search feature. Subject Terms allow you to search for items that have been tagged with that subject as a major focus.
Find and search for Subject Terms
You can find Subject Terms listed in the results page after a search. Clicking on a Subject Term will run a search for everything tagged with that term.
Change drop-down search options
You can also use the drop-down next to your search boxes to search for Subject Terms instead of keywords anywhere.
By adding search boxes and changing the drop-down options, you can have multiple subject terms, or combine subject terms and keywords in your search.
Use the Thesaurus
Subject Terms may not be intuitive. Use the Thesaurus search in the database to find out what different Subject Terms are available for your topic/concept.