Before you start looking for information, take a few minutes to state a research question, identify possible keywords, and brainstorm alternate keywords. This will help focus your searches and save you time.
1. State a research question
Stating a research question will help you keep yourself on track. For example, if you are investigating student athletes, you could ask questions such as:
2. Identify possible keywords
Look at your question. What are the key concepts? For example:
3. Brainstorm alternate keywords
Once you have picked out the keywords in your question, make a list of synonyms, related terms, broader terms, and narrower terms. Some good ways to find alternative terms are looking in reference works like encyclopedias, talking to professors and librarians, and brainstorming with friends.
Come back to this list for keywords to use when searching for information. As you seach, you may notice other terms used in the literature. Add these to the list. You may also find subject headings used in the controlled vocabulary of the catalogs and databases.
Some tips for entering keywords: Use quotation marks to keep phrases together (for example, "student athlete.") Use an asterisk for truncation (for example, volunteer* will search for any word that begins with volunteer, including volunteering or volunteerism.)
Examples of related terms
"College athletics" (subject heading used in the ERIC controlled vocabulary)
Bulldog Stadium. Image from TLU Bulldogs Facebook page.