Library Research: A Step-By-Step Guide

Use this guide to learn more about the research process

Become a smart researcher

Become a better researcher

To be an efficient and effective searcher...

  • Be creative! Try different search words, such as synonyms or related words
  • Be flexible - try broad searches first, then narrow searches because search tools require different strategies
  • Learn as you go! Keep your eyes open for new vocabulary that you find in your sources (book, article or website results), and use this new search vocabulary for your next search
  • Be willing to ask for help from a librarian!
  • Be persistent! Look in more than one place - use all the search tools available to you, such as the following:
    • Library databases
    • Primo One Search (the library catalog search box linked below)
    • The internet (of course!)

Using relevant search words

1. FIRST: Try broad search words relating to your topic, such as:

  • genetically modified food

2.  NEXT: Try a new search.  Add words to narrow your search, such as:

nutrition safety
legislation environment
controversy agribusiness
poverty small farms
hunger food labeling
health pest resistance


  • Example searches:
    genetically modified food labeling
    genetically modified food safety
    genetically modified food hunger


3.  ALSOBrainstorm synonyms or related terms for search words

  • Example: hunger- food supply, food security, famine, malnutrition
  • Example searches:
    • genetically modified food famine
    • genetically modified hunger
    • genetically modified food malnutrition

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.

Helpful search strategies

Search strategies 

  1. Start searching for Background information 
  2. When searching the library catalog, databases, or the internet, use
    AND / OR / NOT to help you broaden or narrow your search results
  3. Use truncation symbols (usually ? or *) in library catalogs and databases to capture all forms of words (forest* will retrieve forest, forests, forester, forested, foresting).
  4. Keep searches simple using basic search words.
    For example, search on body image women rather than how does body image affect women in the United States?
  5. Use a variety of search words. 
    For example, try different searches to find different results:

          body image women
          self image women
          personal appearance women
          anorexia women
          body image teenagers

  1. Become a power internet searcher!  Use advanced search techniques in Google to get better results from your internet searches