Is your search getting too many results? Narrow your search focus.
Expand your search scope if you're not getting enough results.
If you need to narrow or expand your search focus, re-evaluate your search terms. With discipline-specific jargon as search terms, you may artificially limit your results.
Use quotation marks to search for a particular phrase.
Example: "Fight the Power"
This is useful for terms that mean something different when away from other words, and for titles of works or persons' names.
Use an asterisk to find variations of a word. Put an asterisk after the "root" of the word to find all variations of that word, including singular and plural.
This will find "architecture", "architectural", "architects", etc.
Use parentheses as a way to logically group search terms together.
Example:("climate change" OR "global warming") AND ("population growth" OR "overpopulation")
This is a little more complicated, but VERY useful. The database will figure out what is "nested" inside the parentheses first, and only after that will the "AND" be processed. What that means: if either climate change or global warming is in the article, the first group of terms is "true." If population growth or overpopulation is present, the second group is true. Only if both groups are true does the database decide that the article matches your search.
You can use the Search Generator from Northwest Missouri State University to help you create a keyword search.
Are you familiar with Venn diagrams? Keyword searching in databases uses the same idea. The diagrams below show what using the words AND, OR, and NOT will result in when used in a database search.
Use AND to focus search and combine different aspects of your topic.
Example: France AND Hip-Hop Culture
Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.
Example: France OR Hip-Hop Culture
Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search.
Example: Hip-Hop Culture NOT France
Once you have selected an area to research, the next step is to figure out where your topic fits into the existing literature.
What specific question or questions do you want to answer as you do your research? (i.e. what is your hypothesis or hypotheses? You may need to modify these as you do your research.)
If your area of research is too broad, you will be overwhelmed with too much information and will have trouble focusing on a topic to write about. Some subjects might be fine if you were writing a full-length book but would be impractical for a 10-page paper. Try limiting your research topic in terms of time period, geography, or noteworthy individuals. You may want to explore a subset of your initial area of research.
If you have trouble locating any information on your topic or find only one or two articles or just a brief mention of your topic in a book, then your area of research may be too narrow or overly focused. If this is the case, try taking a broader view of the topic you are investigating. Here is an example:
"Ragtime music in the United States"
This topic is too broad for a 10 page paper.
"The relationship of ragtime music and performance of minstrel shows in the United States"
This research topic could be covered in a 10-page paper.
Arts research can be very interdisciplinary. For this example topic (interaction of the ragtime music and minstrelsy in the United States), you might want to look at the literature within the following disciplines:
Try to think of all the possible areas you might want to explore in order to answer your research question.