Skip to main content
Banner Image Return to SJFC Lavery Library Homepage Return to Lavery Library Research Guides Homepage

First Year Program Dept. 199 Library Instruction

Here are the information literacy basics for second semester students taking the 199 Research Based Writing Course.

Brainstorm for Concepts and Terms

Break down your topic into concepts

Databases have difficulty searching for sentences and plain language text. Search by using the most important terms in your topic. For instance, your topic or research question may be "How would the legalization of marijuana affect our legal system?"  Many of the words in this sentence would confuse a database search, by ignoring articles, pronouns, prepositions, and other unimportant words, you will be left with the key words to use in your search.  Concept terms -

How would the legalization of marijuana affect our legal system?
When searching for articles on this topic in a database, simply use the terms:
"legal system" (use quotation marks to search this as a phrase)


Brainstorm for synonyms related to your concepts

Now that you've broken down your research question into the specific concepts, think about all the other words an author might use to talk about these concepts.  In other words, find synonyms or related words for each concept term/phrase.  Hint: use a thesaurus if you get stuck. 

Legalization marijuana legal system
laws drugs courts
legislation pot "judicial system"
policies grass "war on drugs"
decriminalize dope "justice system"


Use the document at the top of this box to help you stay organized when breaking down concepts and brainstorming for synonyms.

Sonoma State Univesity Library Brainstorming Video

Research Like a Pro

Quick video on gathering search terms for the University of Alabama Library.