Beginning Your Research

Plan Ahead
A little planning before you begin your search will make it easier and faster. Here are some steps to get you going on the right track:

Step 1 - Define your purpose.

First, you need to determine the purpose of your project. Try asking yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to do?
  • What are my guidelines? (The number and/or type of resources or topic parameters?)
  • What do I need to do? (Produce a speech, write a short report?)
  • How long is the project? (Number of pages, or minutes of presentation).
  • Who is my target audience? (Classmates, instructor, a business group, ecology action group?)
  • What is the purpose of my project?
    • Am I persuading someone?
    • Am I reporting on something?
    • Am I summarizing information?
    • Am I justifying a position (opinion)?

Step 2 - Choose your topic

  • Get an idea.
  • Write it down in question or statement form.
  • Check your purpose to make sure your topic is within the guidelines.
Example Topic:
I want to raise awareness about the dangers of male breast cancer.

Step 3 - Select search keywords.

Since most searching is based on keywords, you'll want to generate a possible list before starting. Consider related subjects as keywords.

  • List any keywords or subjects that come to mind.
  • Consult a dictionary.
  • Use a thesaurus for generating synonyms.
  • Check an encyclopedia for other related words or subjects.
Example Keywords:
Men/breast cancer/ male /human /malignancy

Step 4 - Plan a search algorithm

You can now use your list of keywords. First you will need to decide which keywords are essential and which are not.

Most searches use Boolean algorithms. Boolean searching uses the words "AND" and "OR" to narrow or expand your search. If you combine keywords with "AND," your search narrows to sources only including both keywords. If you use "OR," you will find sources containing either or both of your terms.

Example Boolean Search Strategy:
Using the terms "male or men" and "cancer or malignancy" and "breast," the Venn diagram of this search strategy would look like this:
For the best results, you'll want the set of sources that contains all your keywords.

Step 5 - Determine the scope of your search

You obviously can't search for every source on a topic. It's wise to decide ahead of time what types of sources you want to concentrate on, such as books, journals, magazines, newspapers, subject databases, and/or Web pages.

Example Scope of Search for Male Breast Cancer:
  • Medical Journals
  • Magazines
  • Online Medical databases, e.g. PubMed or Medline
  • Web pages

Step 6 - Perform your initial search

Do your search either at the local library or on the Internet. Don't forget to keep track of your sources.


Step 7 - Evaluate your search results

Evaluation is an important step in the research process. After you have collected your initial set of sources, take a close look at what you've found. Are you finding the types of sources you need? Are you going the direction you want? If not, you need to refine your criteria before going another round.