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General Library Research Tutorial

Fundamental concepts and vocabulary used in library and information research.

A. Background Research

Background Research

search strategy is an organized plan for gathering information. Developing a search strategy will help you locate appropriate information from a variety of sources.

For a research paper or speech, the following is a useful way to begin your search strategy:

 1.  Choose a topic that interests you and that is:

  • Not too broad - with hundreds of books and articles written about it, as in the examples below:


* drug abuse

* South Africa

* Civil War 

  • Not too narrow - with nothing or only one or two articles written about it, as in the examples below:

* the effect of drug abuse on the athletic performance of 18-year-old hockey players in Argentina

* a comparison of the marketing strategies of two barber shops in Harrisonburg, VA 

Be sure to discuss your research topic with your professor.


2.  Find background information in encyclopedias and textbooks.  This will help define and focus your topic. The bibliographies in these sources are usually excellent starting points, since they provide a list of books and articles that are not only pertinent, but also authoritative.


3.  Identify the main concepts of your topic and generate a list of search terms and subject headings for each. Use these search terms in reference books, Primo, and research databases.

Example: The effect of television viewing on aggressive behavior in teenagers.

Make a list of additional keywords or phrases for each concept. 

  • Television
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Teenagers

Be mindful of alternate manners with which to communicate your information need.  Notice that the simple term "television" is listed above.  Depending upon the database used, you may need to distinguish between television viewing and television broadcasting.  Generally, however, simple search terms work best for your initial search.

Also, be aware of synonyms, such as aggression and adolescents, respectively, in the above example.

Finally, understand that some words have too many synonyms and make ineffective keywords.  Such words include:

  • Cause
  • Effect
  • Relationship
  • Impact
  • Purpose

These words, and others like them, are largely ambiguous and generally unneeded for initial searches of databases.

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