Answered By: Harry L. Whitlock II
Last Updated: Jun 29, 2017     Views: 83

The first step of any search is to ensure you have a focused research question. That is, the topic that you want to research needs to be specific and focused on a specific area. From this research question, identify two to four keywords that are related to the heart of the research. This tutorial explains keyword searching.

Next, choose the databases that are appropriate to the topic. For most lower level classes, ProQuest Central, Academic Search Premiere, or Web of Science are good general databases (look for the "Popular Databases" box at this link). For other topics, research will be more successful in specific databases. For example, the MLA International database for literature and humanities, PAIS for social sciences, PsycInfo for psychology, and so forth. Databases are arranged by subject on the above link. Use more than one database.

Use "controlled language" in the database search. Do not use use words such as "the" or "what." Do not type in your entire question. Use the words used in the profession rather than common conversation. In other words, use "myocardial infarction" instead of "heart attack." Most databases have a link to a thesaurus or the accepted vocabulary for a specific field. This tutorial explains controlled language/vocabulary

Use Boolean search options.This process helps narrow or expand search results by using words such as AND, OR, and NEAR. This short tutorial explains Boolean language

Adapt the search strategy during the research process. In "research" one must often "RE-search." Add or delete keywords as necessary to refine the search parameters.

This link is to the library guide of tutorials on how to effectively use library resources.

In addition to the bibliographic databases containing articles, the libraries catalog can also be searched for research information. This guide from another academic library describes the process for searching by keyword, author, title, and subject

These two guides from other libraries are particularly useful for health and medicine research topics:

If a search is not identifying any useful resources, contact the UW Libraries Help Desk (Level 2 of Coe Library, email at, or phone 766-2070) or contact a subject matter librarian

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