Once you have chosen a topic, write it down in the form of a question or brief statement:
What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
Pull out the keywords and phrases that are most specific to your topic:
"SAT scores" and "college success"
Take those keywords and phrases and brainstorm related terms, concepts or synonyms
SAT scores > "scholastic aptitude test" or "college admission test"
college > "university" or "higher education"
success > achievement
Formulate a search strategy using boolean search, wildcards, phrases, etc.
(SAT OR "scholastic aptitude test") AND (college OR universit*) AND (succe* OR achieve*)
Boolean operators are words (or, and, not) used to connect search terms to expand or narrow a search within a database to locate relevant information.
It is helpful to diagram the effects of these operators:
women or females
Or retrieves records that contain anyof the search terms. It expands the search. Therefore, use "or" in between terms that have the same meaning (synonyms) or equal value to the search.
women and media
And retrieves records that contain all of the search terms. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "and" in between terms that are required to make the search specific.
image not weight
Not eliminates records that contain a search term. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "not" in front of a term to ensure that the search will not include that term. Warning: Some databases use "and not" instead of "not." Check the database help screen.
Place quotation marks around phrases, names, or titles
Use the asterisk symbol (*) at the end of a word to retrieve variant endings of that word
ex. bank* will retrieve: banks, banking or banker
Use a question mark within a word as a wildcard
ex. wom?n will retrieve woman or women
Keyword vs. Subject Searching
Your topic itself may prove to be the words that make up your search term(s).
Keywords searches look for that search term(s) in the:
title, subject, author, summary or abstract fields.
Keywords found frequently or throughout an article may push that article higher in the search results.
Keywords matches do not distinguish between context and purpose.
A subject search will locate materials by Library of Congress Subject Headings, which is a controlled vocabulary or standard list of subject terms. The Oviatt Library assigns Library of Congress Subject Headings to all items listed in the online catalog.
The number of results may vary widely. Some searches will retrieve hundreds of results but if you choose a nonexistent subject term while others get nothing.
If you do not know the appropriate subject heading for your topic, conduct a keyword search first and look at the subject heading(s) for relevant items.