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Prof. Patasaw - Problems in Pollution - Spring 2019: Plan Your Search

What am I looking for?

What are you looking for?  Every search engine asks you "What are you looking for?" and you must put into words the ideas you are seeking. A good place to start is by deconstructing your research question (also known as your topic). 

Suppose you are looking for articles on the impact of drugs or chemicals being leached or released into the water supply.

Find the main ideas in this search topic/question:  the impact of drugs or chemicals being leached or released into the water supply

There are 2 big ideasdrugs or chemicals and the water supply

You are looking for the connections or relationship between the 2 big ideas: impact when leached or released

Build a List of Keywords (Search Terms)

Wherever you search, you enter words that you hope/expect will retrieve the best or just right sources and information. Building a list of words and terms that are linked to your topic is a basic step to successful research!

Step 1: Begin with your task and topic.

Read over your task as assigned.  Look for any words that express the main concepts.  

Step 2: Generate additional keywords.

Brainstorm more terms you can use in searching and writing. There are specific strategies you can use to help you with this step.

  • Think of synonyms of each of the words you already have on your list.  
    Example:  Environment and ecosystem are closely related terms; searching with both terms - together or separately - will likely expand your results. Other examples: Teens has many synonyms including teen, teenager, teenagers, adolescent, youths, and so on. Criminals might also be called offenders. You might find useful information about colleges by searching for universities. This is equally true for ideas that are often abbreviated.  GMO is the abbreviation for genetically modified organisms; both terms are useful in searching.
  • Add plural and singular forms of the words. Search engines need to be told when you want more than one of an idea.  Examples: dioxin and dioxins, pharmaceutical and pharmaceuticals. Statue is different to a search engine compared to statues.
  • Think about related terms. Use the 5 Ws to prompt your thinking. Answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Which? How?  Example: Is your search tied to the whole United States or just New York State? Was there an incident or case study that occurred in a specific year or place?
  • Think about broader or narrower terms that might be of use.  Example: The release of dioxins into the water supply may be linked to larger discussions of water pollution or environmental aspects of waste disposal. The placement of Confederate monuments might be part of a larger discussion of hatred or racism or extremism.
  • Consider other forms of the same word. Examples: environment, environmental, environments, ... are all connected terms. Sleep, sleeps, sleeping, sleeper, ...  You can sometimes use a wildcard search to capture the family of words/ideas if they all have a common stem.  Example:  Use sleep* to simultaneously search for all words/ideas that begin with sleep.

Step 3: Add to your list of keywords throughout your search.

As you search and read articles, you will encounter new ways of talking about ideas related to your search. Add to your list. 

Remember: The words on your list will help you find the BEST information possible. These same words will help you write (create) your best product (essay, presentation, speech).