Brainstorm possible search terms for your topic. Keep in mind that you may need to simplify long phrases by breaking them up into separate search terms or smaller phrases. Here is an interactive tutorial that provides detail about the brainstorming process.
ANDs and ORs and NOTs. You will need to combine your search terms with connecting terms (called "Boolean operators"), such as AND and OR. Use AND between terms to narrow a search and OR between terms to broaden a search. See the online video below to learn more about how to use Boolean operators.
Do preliminary searches before settling on a topic. Don't assume there will be a lot of information on your topic. Do a few searches before committing to a topic. You may find that you need to narrow or broaden your topic.
Read through background information. Taking a few minutes to read about your topic in a specialized encyclopedia, dictionary or handbook may be one of the most effective and time saving research tips on this list. You will probably refine and refocus your topic several times before you finalize it. Some specialized reference sources, located on the second floor of Library North, are listed under the Books tab above. These books are good places to start your research when you know little about a topic, when you need an overview of a subject, or when you want a quick summary of basic ideas. They are also useful for discovering the names of important people and can familiarize you with the vocabulary of the field. Encyclopedia articles are often followed by carefully selected bibliographies or lists of references to other works, useful items to have as you begin looking for additional information.
Focus on scholarly sources. For most research assignments, you will want to use primarily scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Such articles are typically not freely available on the Web and cannot be found by searching Internet search engines like Google or Yahoo. See the Articles tab above to find more information about identifying scholarly articles.
Books vs. articles. Books (including reference books) may be helpful for background information and for familiarizing yourself with a topic. Articles, on the other hand, are more current and typically address a very narrow piece of a topic, such as details of a specific study. The scope of your assignment will determine what types of sources are best. Many class projects will involve identifying primary empirical research, which is available primarily through articles.
Keep a log of your search process. It's often helpful to know what sources you've consulted and whether they were helpful. Keeping a search log is an easy way document what sources and search terms "work" and which ones do not.
Cite as you go. Even if you're not sure whether you will use a source, it's much easier to note the citation information up front than to decide you need it later! Carefully citing will also allow you to avoid plagiarism. See this interactive tutorial to learn the basics of paraphrasing and citing appropriately.