This library course guide is intended to help students hone their research design skills related to the writing of a thesis research proposal.
Searching academic literature is an iterative process
- Identify the main ideas or concepts
- Think of synonyms or related terms for each concept
- Combine the search terms
- Discover and select the database(s) you want to search
- Execute search
- Evaluate the results you find and revise your search strategy as necessary (and possibly your research question)
Identify the main concepts of your research topic and brainstorm possible keywords.
Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine concepts and enhance your search
- Use AND to narrow your search
- Use OR to connect synonyms and expanding your search
- Use NOT to eliminate a word, ie: cloning NOT sheep
Use Brackets to group synonyms together, ie: (ice shelves OR sea ice OR lake ice OR glaciers OR ground ice) AND cryosphere
Use Quotation Marks for phrase searching, ie: "satellite imagery"
Use Truncation to broaden your search. The asterisk * at the end of a root word will search various word endings.
- Example: "pollut*" finds "pollute", "pollutes", "pollution", "polluter", "polluted", "polluting", "pollutant", "pollutants"
Use Wildcards to broaden your search to include words with different spellings
- minerali?ation = mineralisation, mineralization
- wom#n = woman, women
- colo*r = colour, color
Note: Many databases now provide automatic truncation, seamlessly searching for alternate spellings. When this is the case, using your own truncation overrides the system. Try a search first and then use truncation if needed.
There are many search tools and databases available. Start with the links below. Please remember to create an account when using each tool to maximize your searching experience.
- Omni - Omni Search Tips
- GEOBASE - GEOBASE 3 minute how-to video
- Scopus - How to conduct a basic search
- Web of Science Core collection - navigating search results
Library Databases tagged: Geography
- Choose the most important keywords on your topic to find information
- For comprehensive searches, you will need to consider all possible ways of expressing your topic/idea
- Keep a keyword list (Excel file) when your are researching a topic. It will help you remember the words you have already tried, the combinations you have used, and any new words you noticed in your search results
- Index or subject terms are specific words that have been assigned by a database to describe an article or book
- Most databases use searchable subject heading indexes or thesauri authority files
- Using controlled vocabularies will help determine which words/synonyms to use, or which word combinations to try
- Academic libraries in North America use the Library of Congress call numbers and classification system
Examples and videos:
- Omni - look for Subjects in the Detailed record of a book or article
- GEOBASE - under Search you will find the Thesaurus, or browse the Indexes for Controlled Terms
- Scopus - video for basic search
- Web of Science Core Collection - video using controlled terms
- Proquest Thesaurus (YouTube video)
- EBSCOhost Subject Terms (YouTube video)
- set up Email alerts in databases such as Omni, Google Alerts, GEOBASE, Proquest, Ebscohost, Scopus and Web of Science
- learn to use a citation manager to track your sources