If your search is not focused, you will not find good results. You do not need to write out a complete sentence. Searches work best if you connect keywords and short phrases. Link together related words with AND.
If your search is too broad, there will be too many unrelated results. More specific keywords will find better results. Try to think of a specific group, age, or industry.
If your search is too narrow, there will not be enough results. Less specific keywords will find more results.
The topic development process follows your research from the beginning of picking your topic through doing your research:
Resources that help with topic development
It may take several attempts to find the right keywords for your search. Be patient and persistent.
1. Keep it simple! Start by typing the name of a thing, place, or concept that you are looking for.
puppies and "training tips"
london and "dinner cruises"
2. Add relevant words if you do not retrieve pertinent results.
First try: puppy
More precise: "puppy training"
Even more precise: "dalmatian pupp*" AND "obedience training"
3. Use words that a professional would use to describe what you are looking for.
Not ideal: "my head hurts"
Not slang: "why is my head killing me"
4. Use only the important words rather than a full sentence or question.
Not ideal: countries where bats are an omen of luck
Better: bats and omen and luck
All of the words that you include in your search will be used to find matching content. Too many words will limit your results.
What to do when you have too many results:
What to do when you have too few results:
A concept map consists of aspects and angles of your topic and helps you organize your research. Think about what questions you have or that currently exist about your topic. Think about the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, and why – to brainstorm different ways to narrow your question. These questions are important because they cannot have a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Notice if you use general words in a brainstorm and try to make your words more specific. For example, if you think about "when," are you brainstorming about the past, the present, or the future?
When researching vegetarian food culture in the United States, you could ask:
The video above by Appalachian State University shows shows how to create and use a concept map to develop your research.
Reference sources help you find an angle on your topic, learn the language of the subject, and identify an interesting question. If you are focusing on a particular academic discipline like psychology, education, or business, then it is worth taking time to read background entries in subject encyclopedias. These encyclopedias provide background information and have the correct subject terms and keywords. You can also check Subject Guides in your discipline for more resources.
When searching in library research databases, it is important to search with keywords that capture the essential key concepts that make up your topic because the more terms that you use in your search, the fewer results. A search like impact of gender on people's salary expectations will retrieve fewer results than if you searched for gender AND salary AND expectations.
Brainstorm all of the keywords or terms with the meaning of your key concepts. For the word salary, authors might use terms such as wages, pay, income, or earnings. Searching for all of those terms together with OR between them (for example: pay OR wages OR income OR earnings) tells the search engine to find at all of these terms in your search results, and it retrieves all of the possible works on your topic at once.
Reference Resources at the PSU Library provide basic information as well as the scholarly language used for your topic including keywords, people's names, or place names.
Once you have your keywords for searching, try them in various combinations in the library's research databases or in the PSU Library catalog. Here is a video about brainstorming for keywords.
Read your assignment carefully and look for these key components in your assignment:
Highlight or underline the elements that are key to understanding your assignment. If you find that you can not describe what your assignment is about to someone else, you should re-read the assignment or ask your instructor for clarification.
Background research helps develop a more effective topic as well as brainstorm for better search terms or keywords.