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College of the Atlantic - Thorndike Library

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Getting Started on Your Research

Getting the Information you Want

OK, so by now you have chosen a topic and identified information sources.  Now you want to find the most relevant books, articles, and other resources available. This means you need to devise some good search strategies.

Identify Key Concepts

The best search terms to use represent key concepts in your research project. Take a look at your research question.  What are the key concepts in that question?

Example: How do pets enrich the lives of people?

Key Conceptspets  and people


Identify Synonyms for your Key Concepts

It is helpful to think of synonyms (similar words) for your key concepts.  Using these synonyms as search terms will help you increase your results. (Having trouble thinking of synonyms? Try

Here are some possible synonyms for the key concepts identified above.

pets - dogs, cats, goldfish

people - humans, society, folks


Consider what resources your database is searching

Let's say you are doing research on folktales from Thailand.  The key concepts in this research would be folktales and Thailand.  However, if you are looking for books in our online catalog, Thorncat, and enter these search terms, you will not find any results.  Does that mean we do not have any books that talk about folktales from Thailand?  Not necessarily!

We are a small library and have not purchased books specifically about folktales in Thailand.  However, we do have books about folktales from around the world.  If you enter the search terms folktales and world, you get a number of results.  You could look in the index of a book on folktales from around the world and see if Thailand is listed.  Some other search terms you might consider are tales (instead of folktales) and global or multicultural (instead of world).


Use Phrase Searching

Most databases allow for phrase searching.  This means you can put quotes around a single concept to get results that have that particular phrase.  For example, searching "free will" (with the quotes) will bring back results that have the two words together as a phrase rather than results that have free somewhere in the record and will somewhere in the record.  Other examples of single concepts that would be good to search as a phrase are:

"New England"
"United States"
"College of the Atlantic"
"global warming"
"organic gardening"


Use Truncation Symbols

Truncation symbols allow you to find variants of a word with one search.  A common truncation symbol is the asterisk (*).  Most databases allow truncation searches.

Example:  A search on wood* will retrieve results with the words wood, woods, wooden, woodsman, and woodpecker.