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It's easier to start broad and narrow down a search, and one way to begin is to identify the "who" and the "what" your topic addresses.
Identify a few key words that address the core idea of the topic. This doesn't need to be an exhaustive list when you're starting out.
Use Boolean operators to connect keywords to search library databases and resources.
Building a keyword search
Boolean operators are "AND", "OR" and "NOT"
- finds resources that includes both/all words
- connects different ideas
- limits results
- narrows search
- Example: "electoral college" AND congress
- finds resources that include either word
- uses synonyms
- increases results
- broadens search
- Example: state OR country OR nation
- excludes words
- limits results
- Example: virus AND pandemic NOT flu
- enclose two or more words that go together in quotes (this way the search will look for "United States" rather than united AND states)
- enclose OR keywords in parentheses to keep together ("United States" OR US OR America)
- Be flexible! A lot of research is identifying the best keywords to use for a particular topic. Don't get discouraged if you aren't getting many results, chances are you just need to adjust some of your keywords
- use the * symbol to search multiple endings from a root word (theor* will search theory, theories, theorist, theorists)
Example topic and corresponding search query
Members of Congress play different roles when they consider legislation and execute Congressional oversight. There is debate over which role is most consistent with the intent of the Framers. Considering the current political and social atmosphere surrounding Congress, would the delegate model or trustee model better serve the needs of the people as the Framers intended?
("delegate model" OR "trustee model") AND framers AND constitution AND ("united states" OR US OR America)