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English 1100 - English Composition - Fall, 2022: Research Question>Search Strategy

Tips to help with researching a topic for compositions

Example Research Question

How do non-recycled plastic water bottles endanger our environment?

Moving from a Research Question to a Search Strategy

Topic>Core Concepts> Keywords

1. From your research question or topic identify the core concepts.

  • Plastic Water Bottles
  • Endanger
  • Environment

2. Then identify keywords from your concepts - brainstorm alternative words, use a thesaurus or look in your database search results at words identified in article abstracts.

  • Plastic Water Bottles - plastic bottles, water bottles, portable water containers
  • Endanger - danger, destruction, ruin, destroy, pollution
  • Environment - climate, earth, nature

3. Next plug these keywords together to form a search string.

Search String Components:

  • Use parentheses and OR to nest your search - different ways to get at the same concept e.g  (Environment OR Climate OR Earth), (Danger OR Destroy OR Ruin)

  • Use AND to connect different concepts and thereby return results that include both terms e.g. Water Bottles AND (Environment OR Climate OR Earth) AND (Danger OR Destroy OR Ruin)

  • Use truncation to retrieve variant forms of a word. It is like a wildcard. The * added to the stem of a word will find that stem and anything that comes after it e.g. environ* will return records on environment, environments, environmental. 

  • Use Quotes "  " to retrieve a specific phrase e.g. "Plastic Water Bottles"

4. Finally put your search string into one database search box or use the multiple search boxes with each search box containing a distinct concept.

"Plastic Water Bottles" AND (Environ* OR Climate OR Earth) AND (Danger OR Destroy OR Ruin)


Search Strategy Builder


Use the template below to help your organize your Search String.