Help Guides » Searching for Sources

Searching for Sources


  • Write a research question and identify your main concepts. 
  • Brainstorm keywords for searching.
  • Use Boolean Operators to enter your search into the search box.

Related Guide: Choosing a Topic

Write your Research Question

You’re ready to choose a possible research question to test search.

Remember, your research question should:

  • fit the requirements of the assignment (assignment length, type of argument, source type requirements)
  • Be answered with evidence from information sources (not yes/no questions)

 For example:

Q: What is the negative affect of water pollution on children’s development in the United States?


Writing A Research Question (2 Min)

Identify your Question Concepts

Concepts (definition): main ideas that interact in within your research question

Library search tools work best when using concepts represented by keyword or subject terms. Before you can search you must determine your main concepts for your research question. The 4 W questions often help with this: What, Where, Why, (When)

The “W” Questions

  • Who: Who are you talking about? Also, who is reading the articles you are looking at? Who is doing the research on your topic?
  • Where: Where is your topic being researched? Where is your topic relevant?  Are there specific places where your topic takes place or influences?
  • When:  When did the majority of research on your topic get published (especially important in the sciences)? Are you in a position to compare historical and contemporary information?
  • Why: Why is your topic being researched? Is it an important, urgent issue? Why do you want to do research this topic?

For example:

Q: What are the negative effects of water pollution on children’s development in the United States?

  • Who: children 
  • What: (negative) development
  • Where: United States
  • How: Water Pollution
  • Why: government policy, regulations, public safety 

Brainstorm Keywords for Searching

To search library tools you must translate your concepts into words or phrases that a computer will understand. 
All concepts must be represented in the search you create. Use OR to combine similar terms for the same concept. 

Q: What is the negative affect of water pollution on children’s development in the United States

Concept #1: Child Development
Possible Keywords: “child health” OR “child development”
(opposites): “illness” OR “disease” OR “sickness”
Concept #2: Water Pollution
Possible Keywords: “water pollution”
(opposites): “water safety”
Concept #3: United States
Possible Keywords: “United States” OR “United States of America” OR U.S.
Possible search filters to use: Location (if available)
Example Search String: “child development” “water pollution”
Advanced search with

Using Keywords in Databases (2 min)

Enter your Search

Use Boolean Opperators AND OR NOT to enter your search terms into the search box. Try different combinations until you find the one that works best.

Boolean Operators (2 min)

Need Help?

Librarians can help you choose appropriate library tools, information source types, and keywords.

Ask a Librarian Help Form
Research Help Desk Hours

Help Guide Suggestions: 

Using Databases
Choosing and Evaluating Sources
Finding Resources Guide
Primo Quick Start Guide


Was this page helpful?