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Develop a Search Strategy

Where do I start my research?

Are you feeling overwhelmed? We understand. The library is made up of a lot of databases, and knowing where to start can be challenging.

This guide will help you break down the research process and walk you through choosing a topic, selecting a database, and developing an effective search.

We've structured this guide as a walkthrough, but you may not need each section. Feel free to jump around based on where you're at in your research.

And, if you get stuck at any point, reach out to us through Ask Us. We can help you with:

  • Recommending the most appropriate databases or resources for your research.
  • Providing search strategies to help you effectively use each database.
  • Refining your search skills so you can spend less time doing research.
creating a research plan
Learn how to create a research plan to tackle any type of research project.
explanatio of pre-research
Introduction to the purpose of research and strategies to begin your research journey.

Before you begin: Things to consider

Review your task

Before you jump into research, you must understand what's being asked of you. If you have questions or something isn't clear, it's best to ask the person who assigned the task or your instructor before starting your research. This way, you won't spend time on research that, ultimately, isn't helpful in the end.

Questions to ask yourself

Some questions you might want to ask yourself before you begin include:

  1. If the topic is not already given, what topic do I want to write about? Determining your topic will provide you with an idea of what you want to discuss. You may also find that your topic is too broad and that you need to focus it on a smaller subtopic.
  2. How many pages should it be? The length of the report or essay can help you determine how many ideas you need to cover.
  3. How current must my information be? Some topics, like healthcare or technology, change rapidly, so you may need to find content that is no older than a few years. Other topics, like the history of the American Revolution, don't tend to change as much, so older materials are okay to use.
  4. How many sources do I need? You'll want to support your arguments with credible sources, and, in some cases, you may need to demonstrate the credibility of your statement by citing multiple sources or discussing opposing viewpoints.
  5. What kinds of sources do I need? Do you need scholarly materials, or are popular articles okay? The source you need can help you narrow down the databases or search strategies you want to use once you're ready to start your research.

ProQuest Research Companion

If you've never checked out ProQuest Research Companion, we recommend giving it a look. It's an excellent resource for researchers of all levels and can help you plan your research, evaluate your results, and turn your research into an organized outline to write from. Most modules are short, so you can work through them as needed.

A Note for Doctoral Students

This guide is meant for students of all levels and can be a good place for you to start. However, as you get deeper into your dissertation research, you'll likely need more specific help than what's offered here. We recommend attending one of our doctoral drop-in sessions to get an overview of the library customized for doctoral students or scheduling a 1:1 appointment with one of our research librarians to get more personalized research help and recommendations.

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