ENGL 128 Research Writing: Science, Engineering and Business

This guide will help students complete research writing assignments for English 128.

Find and Strategize How to Use Keywords to Find Relevant Information

Finding Search Words in Reference Sources

To begin to search successfully you must use a variety of words that relate to your topic
  • Think of the different words and phrases that people use when they discuss your topic.
  • Consider broader and narrower words, and synonyms (words that have the same meaning).
  • Think of things you want to know about your topic, for example, history or laws or impacts, etc.
  • Skim through reference sources to identify keywords on your topic. Reference sources will provide:
    • names of individuals and organizations
    • issues
    • historical landmarks
    • settings
    • solutions / attempted remedies
    • controversies 

This example shown in the image below is drawn from the opening paragraph of a reference article titled "Plastics" that from the encyclopedia  titled "Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices" The image points to stakeholders (Who), facts (What), issues (Why), and where the article addresses what's being done or proposed solutions (How). 

(click on image to enlarge)Reference for keywords. Highlighted points are in the text.

Brainstorm Search Words 

  1. State your research question or topic
    • Example: How do cigarettes impact children's health?
  2. Extract the main concepts
    • Example: Children, cigarettes, health
  3. Brainstorm search words
  • NOTE: For an accessible version of the image below, open the document below image titled Keyword Mapping

(click on image to enlarge)

image showing the numbered info above but with an additional table of synonymous and topics listed under number 3.

The starting keywords in the broad research question: How do cigarettes impact children's health? are: cigarettes AND children AND health

I would add a column with words for other things I want to know, such as laws, education, prevention, history, etc.

Type in your Starting Search Terms
  • Use the "Advanced Search" to give you more control when you search.

  • Try different keywords from your keyword list to address the same concept:

climate change / global warming / greenhouse effect / polar icecaps / sea levels

  • Use AND to connect ideas and narrow your focus. In the example below, we want to find articles about climate change AND the government policies that address it.
  • Use OR to search for any of a list of related ideas or synonyms. (Ex: "climate change" or "global warming"
  • Put phrases in quotes to keep search terms together.
  • Use truncation * to search for forms of a root word. (Ex: environment* will also search for environmental)

(click on image to enlarge)

search boxes in academic search complete database  

  •  If you receive too few results, try removing narrowing terms or selecting new ones from your topic brainstorm list.
Use limiters to refine your search 
  • Refine your search by date, source type, and more. 
  • Library databases have thousands and thousands of full text articles you can read immediately. They also provide citations and abstracts for other articles.
    • If you get a link that says to Check for Full Text, click on the link. If we have it in another database, you will be connected, If not, you may borrow through InterLibrary Loan.
  • If you need to access articles immediately, you may check the box to limit to "Full Text" only. The image below shows how you can limit to full text and scholarly journals. 

(click on image to enlarge)

limit to full text and/or scholarly peer reviewed if needed

Source: "Online Research: Tips for Effective Search Strategies" by Sarah Clark, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn how to use Booleans, truncation, and quotations for effective searching.

Identifying Search Words

Source: "From topic to search results in two minutes! " by Holman Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Learn about strategizing keywords and how databases work when searching keywords.