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HU 2900: HUA Project Center Preparation: London: General Search Strategies

Top 5 Search Tips

  1. Keyword searching:
    1. Identify your topic’s key concepts. Do some background research in online encyclopedias. These are not sources that you will cite in your paper but they can provide useful information to help you identify concepts and keywords related to your research topic.
    2. Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords: Search for synonyms for your keywords and concepts to increase the number of relevant search results.
    3. In database search results, look at the article titles and abstracts in your search results to find additional keywords to search for.
    4. Read! The more you read about your topic, the more you'll pick up on the jargon used in that field, which will help you to refine your searches and find relevant sources faster.
  2. Search filters:
    1. When searching in databases, use search filters on the search results page to narrow down your search. Some of the most common filters are:
      1. Publication Date
      2. Source Format/Resource Type (book, journal, video, etc.)
      3. Subject 
      4. Peer-reviewed/Academic Journal
  3. Get the full text of a source:
    1. Some of the library's databases only provide abstracts for sources. Look for the FullTextFinder icon on the search results page. If you only have the summary/abstract of an article, click on the FullTextFinder to search all 200+ library databases for the full-text.
    2. Use Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Submit an ILL request to get full-text journal articles, books and book chapters that are not available through the Gordon Library. ILL is a service that allows you to request these materials, and library staff will try to get these materials for you from another library. 
  4. Often finding one helpful source can lead you to more:
    1. Check bibliographies for additional relevant sources.
    2. Some databases provide “cited by” links for articles - these links help you find sources that have cited an article and built on the authors' research.
    3. Some databases provide “related articles” links to connect you to articles on similar topics. 
  5. Evaluate your sources
    1. What are the author’s credentials? What is the reputation of the organization behind the source? When was the source published? How did the authors gather their data and derive their conclusions? What do other sources say about this topic?

Questions? Ask a librarian!  

Librarians are here to help you with your research. Reach out to the library via chat, email, or by requesting a research consultation: 

Searching is an iterative process


Because every topic of discipline has its own jargon, coming up with lists of keywords will be an integral part of your search process. The more keywords you use to search, the more accurate and successful your search will be. There are a few different ways to find the right keywords to use in your search, but the first step is to consider your research topic and start there:

Think about what concepts you are looking for. For example, if you are interested in feminist books in nineteenth century England, you might search for feminism AND literature AND nineteenth century England. 

Next steps:

  • Try and come up with a list of synonyms or other related terms for your research topic. For example, you might search for
    • feminism OR "women's rights"
    • literature OR novels OR pamphlets 
    • "nineteenth century" OR "19th century" OR 1800s OR Victorian 
    • England OR Britain
  • Do not worry if you cannot come up with a lot of synonyms or related terms on your own. This is a good time to start doing general background research on your topic to help find these words. Start on Google, or try an online encyclopedia. See if you can find related terms there. Encyclopedias might also provide ideas for narrowing down your topic. A typical academic paper does not cite encyclopedias. Use encyclopedias to find ideas for what to research.
  • Once you gather some general ideas about your research topic, move on to more in-depth resources such as research articles, which you can find in places like the WPI Library Search, Google Scholar, and Library Subject-Specific databases. These articles will often contain additional helpful keywords you can use to expand your search.