What do reference sources do?
Brainstorm possible search terms for your topic. You may need to simplify long phrases by breaking them up into separate search terms or smaller phrases.
Consult background information. Specialized encyclopedias, dictionaries and guides are a great time saving tool. Many of these are located in the Reference Collection on Library North 2.
These sources provide topical overviews, summarize basic concepts, and are filled with names and events you can use as keywords in your searching. Many encyclopedia articles also include carefully selected bibliographies that will lead you to additional resources.
Use your secondary sources. As you gather relevant books and articles on your topic, consult the footnotes and bibliographies of these sources for additional potential resources. This is an excellent way to identify useful primary and secondary resources.
ANDs, 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.
Be flexible as you settle on a final topic. Do a few preliminary searches in the library catalog or article databases before commiting to a topic. Make sure you can locate primary sources. You may find you need to narrow or broaden your focus.
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!