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ENGL 1301/1302: Research Starter Guide

Enough, Not Enough, Too Much...

Notice how AND, OR, and NOT relate to each other and connect ideas (see diagrams below).

  • Use OR to connect synonyms or words that could be interchanged: a source should have at least one. Example: cats OR felinesThis finds MORE sources than either word alone would find ("or gets you more!"). 
  • Use AND to connect separate ideas that need to co-exist; a source should have all. Example: "cats" AND "dogs". This finds FEWER sources - only those that mention both cats and dogs.  
  • Use NOT to exclude irrelevant information that might be found by the same keywords. Example: cowboys NOT football. This finds FEWER sources than the first word alone would find.

 Venn diagram illustrating results of a Boolean search for cats OR felines

Venn diagram illustrating results of a Boolean search for African Americans AND Civil War

Venn diagram illustrating results of a Boolean search for cowboys NOT football

If Keyword Searching Doesn't Work!

sticky notes on wall; Photo by You X Ventures on UnsplashRemember:

Some research topics simply don't relate to what people explicitly wrote in literal words.

Read between the lines. Read for what is implied, not just what is clearly stated. Make inferences. Use critical thinking.

Be a Detective

  1. What are you searching for?
    • What is your topic or thesis statement?
    • What type of source(s) do you need?
  2. Who are people that can help you on your mission? (Librarians!)
  3. Where can you go to find more information about what you need? (
  4. What clues do you follow when you don't find exactly what you need?
    • What synonyms can you use instead of the search terms you've been sticking with?
    • What are RELATED topics to your search?  Brainstorm with a friend.
    • Were other sources mentioned in the reference lists on sources you did find that might be useful for your research?

People's Names as Search Terms


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