Skip to main content

Information Literacy

Practical Searching

The Research Cycle

A search strategy is an organized method to retrieve information about a specific topic. It is often referred to as the Research Cycle.

Use the techniques described below to become a better researcher.

Keyword Searching: In databases and search engines, it is possible to do a broad search for information by typing in a term which you feel describes your topic and using it as a keyword. Every occurrence of your keyword from all the searchable fields will be found. The searchable fields could include the full-text of an article or an entire web page.

You may retrieve a large number of hits. Look carefully at a couple of the relevant hits to get ideas for other terms which could help you refine your search. Keyword searching can be time consuming and exhausting because it is such a broad method of searching.  Remember: Finding too much information is just as problematic as finding too little information.

How can you refine a search? The best thing about databases is that they contains records with fields that can be sorted, arranged, and searched. When confronted with many results in a first broad keyword search, you can  narrow your search by limiting it to specific fields, like the subject field.

Searching Subject Headings: Subjects are created from a "controlled vocabulary" by a human after carefully reading or looking at the item. Each item will have only a few subject terms which must be chosen from a list of allowable subject headings, a controlled vocabulary. If you find one book or article that meets your needs, look at the subject assigned. It may not be what you expect. Often these are highlighted links.

Research to Learn!

Always do your preliminary research first. Do it BEFORE you finalize your the topic and BEFORE you create a thesis or a final research question. Collect sources that you can read and use for guidance along the way.

Most students erroneously think that in order to do research you just have to dream up a topic, research it, then dump what you get into a paper.  In fact, research, reading, and writing are combined processes and inform each other. You may continually revise your topic as you write and research.

The reading you do in the beginning of a research process has two specific purposes:

  1. It helps you to narrow your topic by finding out how much information is out there and, therefore, what is do-able within the page-limits you have been assigned.
  2. It helps you get an idea of which specific aspects of your topic you will want to do more detailed reading about.

Wikipedia Is Excellent for PRELIMINARY Research

Concept Mapping is A Good Preliminary Method

Mind Map: Love
A concept map or "mindmap" is a simple way to visually display ideas and relationships among concepts. Creating one can help you organize your ideas and define your topic. You can create a mind map of anything!

Minda Map Example

Interesting mindmap created as a Wikipedia advertisement. Found on Flickr. Click on image to go to the page describing it.Mind Map: I Edit Wikipedia (chalkboard example)
See also:

The images on this page were used by permission, most under CC licensing.

Web Tools for Mind Mapping

Mind Map

There are many mind mapping software packages available.

Bubl Us is free and easy to use.

Mind Meister is good and free for use with limited features. But you have to sign up


Otis College of Art and Design | 9045 Lincoln Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90045 | Otis Dashboard

Millard Sheets Library | Library Dashboard Site | 310-665-6930 | Ask a Librarian