1b. Develop Questions & Keywords1d. Find Background Information1e. Refine a Topic
2a. Find Books2b. Find Articles2c. Find Full Text2d. Find Reserves2e. Find Images2f. Find Films2g. Find Websites2h. Search Strategies
3a. Evaluate Sources3b. Primary vs. Secondary Sources3c. Types of Periodicals
4a. Paraphrasing4b. Notetaking
5a. Plagiarism5b. MLA Citation Style5c. Works Cited Examples5d. Copyright
This is the "1b. Develop Questions & Keywords" page of the "Olin Library: Research Skills" guide.
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Last Updated: Oct 29, 2015 URL: http://library.drury.edu/research Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

1b. Develop Questions & Keywords Print Page



Struggling to identify #keywords based on your #topic or #research question? Try this idea... which words would you #hashtag if it was a #social network feed?


Combining Keywords

Generally we want to find resources that contain more than one term or concept. To do this we need to combine terms using a specific style of phrasing known as Boolean (Boo-lee-an) operators.

If we want to look for several different terms in the same reference we use the operator "AND" (for 'as well as'). For example if our topic was "energy conservation at home and at work", the phrase would be:

energy conservation AND home AND work

We are asking the computer to search for references with all of these terms.

If we have some alternative terms for each keyword we use the operator OR (for either...or ).
For example:

energy conservation OR energy efficiency OR energy saving

Here we are asking the computer to search for any of these terms.


Developing Research Questions

Once you have selected an initial topic, the next step is to develop research questions. To begin:

  • Write down what you already know or don't know about the topic.
  • Using the information you wrote down, develop questions you'd like to answer when doing your research.
    • Use probing questions such as why? how? what if? should?
    • Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no. 

An example is provided below.


Example: Endangered Species Act

What do or don't I know about the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

I know it's a law that protects animals, and their habitats, that are in danger of extinction. I believe the law only protects habitats that are within the U.S. boundaries. I know at one point bald eagles and grizzly bears were on the list, but I thought they had been removed. I know there has been a lot of controversy recently about adding polar bears to the list. I don't what it takes for an animal to be removed from the list and I don't know what the penalties are for violating this act.

Research Questions

  • What was the Endangered Species Act (ESA) designed to protect -- animals only or ecosystems too?
  • What animals/habitats outside of the United States boundaries are covered by the act?
  • What other countries have legislation to protect animals/habitats?
  • What animals are currently on the endangered species list?
  • How does an animal get added/removed from the list?
  • What penalities are imposed on those who violate the act?

Identifying Keywords

Before you can begin searching for information in a print or online resource, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Key terminology can be easily be found by scanning:

  • Your initial research questions
  • Encyclopedia and other articles used when conducting background research
  • Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles

If you are still struggling, then try these suggestions:

  • Use a thesaurus (Microsoft Office, print or online) to identify synonyms
  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe the picture
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend

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