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BRB English Resources: Searching for Information

This is a guide of resources to support English, literature, and composition courses at UW-Baraboo/Sauk County.

Keyword Searching

One of the first things you should do when searching for information is think about your keywords.  These are the words and phrases you will use to find relevant information related to your topic.  Brainstorming keywords and collecting more as you go will help you broaden your search.  Here are a few tips to remember:

  • First, think about your topic as a question or sentence.  Pull of few of the obvious words and phrases out of this sentence and write them down.
  • Next, write down any synonyms or related terms that you can think of.  Use a dictionary or thesaurus if you need to.
  • When searching, use different combinations of these keywords and phrases as you type them into search engines, library databases, and library catalogs.
  • Make note of any additional keywords and phrases you may come across or hadn't thought of before.  The more information you find, the more keywords and phrases you will learn.

Use this Keyword Exercise to help you brainstorm keywords and phrases.

Research Tips: What to do when "I can't find anything!"

  1. Do you know enough about your topic? Before diving into the databases, do some background searching first and really get to know your topic. Books are great sources of background info, too!
  2. Change up your keywords.  If you’re using the same two or three keywords over and over, you might get stuck. As you get more familiar with your topic, make note of all the terms and phrases you come across.  Use different combinations of these keywords when searching.
  3. Try searching a different resource. Try a new database or website, or try searching Search@UW (the UW System library catalog) for books, articles, and digital collections.
  4. Switch or alter your topic. Is there much existing research on your topic? Is your topic more complex than you thought?  Sometimes it helps to think about your topic in a more general sense and work towards something more specific. Let the research guide you.
  5. Check bibliographies.  If you find a good source with a list of references at the end, check ‘em out!
  6. Be patient and don’t wait until the last minute. Research takes time!
  7. Ask a librarian! Librarians are research experts and are here to help you. Your questions are WAY more interesting than all the other things we do at the library, so ask us!


One Perfect Source?

"Your topic seemed so great! So why can't you find any information on it? If you're looking for an all-in-one source that addresses your topic perfectly, you might need a different approach."

Source: NCSU Libraries

Research Tips for Searching Library Databases

  • Use keywords and phrases when searching databases. Try to avoid questions or sentences. For example:
    • DON'T enter: What are the benefits of medical marijuana?
    • DO enter: medical marijuana AND benefits (or other related terms)
  • Use Advanced Searches and Limits to narrow or broaden your search:
    • Too many results? Try narrowing your search by adding more specific keywords, refining the date range, or using additional limiters available in the database.
    • Too few results? Try broadening your search by omitting keywords or using more general terms, expanding the date range, or using fewer limiters.
  • Pay attention to Subject Terms that are assigned to articles.  These can help you identify additional keywords and phrases.
  • Remember that you my not always be able to tell if an article is useful just by reading the title. Click on the title, read the abstract (summary), and skim through the full text of the article to determine whether or not it is relevant.  You may still be able to use part of it even if the entire article isn't exactly aligned with your topic.