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Adult and Graduate Studies Library Guide: Search Strategy

A guide to library resources - for students in our Adult and Graduate Studies programs.

Search Strategy

Before you begin searching, whether it's in WINDOW, the library catalog, Business Source Complete, ERIC, or another resource, take a moment to think about your search strategy.  How can you search efficiently to find the best information?

  • Try the "Think - List - Search - Adjust" approach; learn more below.
  • Watch the "Choosing and Using Keywords" video to increase your understanding.
  • Consider subject terms as a way to make your searches more powerful.  

And please, ask for help if you have trouble at any stage in the process.


THINK:  Think about the topic you want to research. Write down your thesis statement or question, if you have one.


LIST:  How can you summarize this topic into single words, or short phrases? Make a list of those words and phrases. Think about related words and phrases.  Write down words that mean the same thing as the words you've already written.


SEARCH: Use the words and phrases on your list, alone and combined in different ways, to begin searching. Keep an eye out for additional words and phrases you see along the way which might also get you to helpful information.


ADJUST:  As you search, you may want to adjust and refine your strategy.  You can do this by adding additional search terms, narrowing by date, or choosing to see only certain types of sources, like academic journals.  The options for adjustment vary depending on the resource you're searching.

Choosing and Using Keywords

This video from USC San Bernadino does a great job at explaning what keywords are and how to think about them when searching.

Using Subject Terms

What are subject terms?

Subject terms are standardized words and phrases that identify the key elements of the book or article – they identify the core of what the book or article is about.

How can they be useful?

A good way to use subject terms (sometimes called subjects or subject headings) is to use them to refine or focus your searching, or to find other materials on a specific topic.

How exactly do I use them?

One approach is to begin with a keyword search with some of the key or primary terms in your research topic. Start browsing your search results. When you find a book or an article that is close to what you're looking for, look at the subject terms that are being used to describe the item. You can use these to find other items on the same topic.  Often the subject terms are clickable, and you can click on them to find other items on that topic.

An example of subject terms from Business Source Complete:

Need more help?

Unsure about what you're reading here?  Visit our Need Help - Ask Us page and connect with one of our librarians who can help you understand.

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