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Thomas W. Cole Library's Home on LibGuides: Intro to Research

A brief overview of the library and its resources

Basic Search Tips

Unlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to breakSearch your topic down into the most important ideas - KEYWORDS.

Example: What was the effect of social media on candidate preference in the 2016 US presidential election?

The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching, you only need the most essential components.

Keywords: social media, candidate preference, 2016 US presidential election

Example sentence


Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!


Keyword: social media     Synonym: Facebook

Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

Most library databases have search tools built in. Try some of these:Search Tools

  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!



You can evaluate any source using the 5 W's:

  • Who: ...wrote it? Are they an expert?
  • What: the purpose of this resource?
  • Where: ...was this information published? ...does the information come from?
  • When: ...was this published or last updated?
  • Why: this resource useful? this resource better than other ones?

Advanced Search Tips

Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

social media AND candidate preference

This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.Using AND to cut down on results

Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.

social media OR Facebook

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.

Using OR to get more results

Use the “QUOTES” strategy to search for several words in a phrase.

"social media"

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.

searching field

Narrowing your Research Topic

Here are just a few steps to help you narrow down your research topic:

  1. Reread your assignment.
    1. Make sure you understand what the professor expects: research paper, bibliography, narrative non-fiction, . . . 
    2. Highlight and record in your calendar the due date!  Don't lose points by missing deadlines.
  2. Rewrite or highlight the topic.  It is best for you to write the topic and to try to write it in your own words.  
  3. Find the keywords in the topic.  These should be the first words you use to find resources.
  4. Make a list of synonyms.  These can be used if your original keywords do not produce enough results. 
  5. Once you have your keywords, you decide which database to begin using.  We usually recommend starting with Academic Search Complete.
    1. Try using Boolean logic terms (AND, NOT, OR) to pull resources most closely associated and using your keywords.
    2. Make sure you know what type of resources your professor is allowing on the assignment: Scholarly only, last 5 years only, . . . 
  6. Lastly, if you need help at any step come by Cole and see any of the library staff members.  We are here to help you!

Boolean Logic Terms

Did you know that using Boolean logic can help cut down on the number of resources you need to sort through?  It is a great way to save time and find resources mostly closely related to your research.

Boolean has 3 terms: AND, NOT, OR.  Here is a quick break down of what they do!

AND - This term causes the database or website to look for items that contain both of the keywords.  Depending on the database or website, you can actually search more than two keywords at once.  This should shrink your results list.

NOT - This term causes the database or website to exclude items that contain the "NOT" word.  This should shrink your results list.

OR - This term causes the database or website to include any of the keywords you enter.  This will grow your results list.  This is a good term to use if you cannot seem to find anything or there are several synonyms for your assignments keywords.

NOTE: Google does not allow "NOT".  You will need to substitute "-" in front of the keyword you wish to exclude.

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