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English 101 - Proposal Research Paper: Search Tips

Search Tutorials

The following are short search tutorials prepared by the librarians at the Colorado State University. They illustrate some techniques that can make your searches more successful.

Successful Searching Q & A

Question: How do I find keywords that will help me the most?

Answer: Get some background information about your topic first. Try using a few of the Popular Databases such as Opposing Viewpoints, Issues & Controversies or CQ Researcher which have A-Z topic lists you can browse. As you read through a broad overview of your topic, start making a list of the words that are used. Sometimes you'll run across other search terms that you may not have thought of otherwise.

An example:

  • hydrogen car*
  • hydrogen automobile*
  • fuel-cell technolog*
  • fuel-cell*
  • renewable fuel*
  • alternative energy and (car* or automobile*)

Hint! Did you notice the * at the end of each example? This is a search technique called truncation which uses an asterisk as a wild card character to get all possible variations of a root word. For example, child* will find results for child, children, childhood, childish, and so on.

Question: What is the best way to weed through results about your topic and narrow it down to the best options?

Answer: There are some standard ways to narrow down results. You can specify a time-frame (only the last few years, or a specific date range). You can narrow results to a specific location (United States, California, etc.). Sometimes the databases build in ways to narrow your results. For example, in EBSCO, you can look at the left-hand column for a variety of ways to refine your results...by the type of publication, a subject area, etc. Often times, if you perform an advanced "Subject" search, you will get fewer, and more precise results as well.

Always keep in mind that the number of results is not the true measure of research success. You want to find the right mix of articles that address the key issues you are trying to write about. Also, the currency of the information you find is important.