When you're shopping for that shirt at the mall, you could waste a lot of time (and money) if you didn't have some sort of strategy or plan to find exactly what you were looking for. That's the WHAT, HOW, and WHERE of a search strategy.
Doing library research is just like shopping when it comes to the process of selecting WHAT, HOW, and WHERE. Think about:
Unlike Google, the search box in a library database can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your research question down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS. The specifics of your research question will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need to type in the most essential components.
Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your research question, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!
Beware! Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.
Most library databases have search tools built in to refine your results. Look for these tools (and more) in the margins or behind an "advanced search" link!
If your results list is too long, try again using the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.
This search will bring back fewer results (the overlapped green area) than searching either keyword on its own.
If your results list is too short, try again using the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.
This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results (the entire blue area) than by searching for just one keyword.
You should assess what information you've found to make sure it is worth using in your research. Does it support what you are trying to say? To figure that out, try the following method:
This means quickly evaluate the book/article/website/resource you've found by using the four moves below (SIFT), going through the CRAAP checklist so you know what to look for, and comparing your source to at least one other source at the same time (lateral reading).
Web information is constantly evolving and can be extremely deceptive-- it may even pass the CRAAP test! Your fact-checking should be very careful so you don't get duped. Check out this playlist of four short videos by Mike Caulfield, which further explains the technique of lateral reading, where you "leave a site after a quick scan and open up new browser tabs in order to judge the credibility of the original site." (Wineberg & McGrew, 2017)
Read more about fact-checking here: Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers
Read more about fake news here: Fake News