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Beginning Your Research? Start Here!

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The Research Process

Presearching

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Now that you have some ideas for a topic, it's time to figure out which are the best words to use to find the best information. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind when you're trying to find good keywords for your search.

  • Official terms. If your topic is important to a specific field, figure out if there is an official way experts in that field refer to that topic. You might find this out by using your textbooks for class or simply by trial and error. But once you know the right jargon or terminology, you will soon find the research that directly connects to your topic.
  • Beware of words with double meanings. Certain words, in different contexts, have different meanings. Using them to search will often result in articles that have little to do with your research topic. For example, if your topic was about people who volunteer their money to local charities, you might thing the word "donor" would be a good keyword. However, the word "donor" can also be used for people who give their organs to others after they die and a number of other meanings.
  • Think of different ways to say the same thing (synonyms). Much like there are words that can mean two different things, there are ideas that can be expressed using different words. You might think of boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17 as teenagers, but other people might call them teens, adolescents, high school students, young adults, or something else. If you struggle to find articles on your topic, think about if there's another way to say what you're interested in.
  • Break down your topic. Sometimes, there is no perfect article for your topic - nothing that is exactly the same as what you're interested in. That doesn't mean that you need to change your topic, though. Sometimes, you need to think about your topic in pieces: find a couple of articles about one part, find a couple of articles about another part, and discuss, in your paper, the connection. For example, if your topic is ways to prevent bullying in eighth-grade girls, you could find articles about ways to prevent bullying, instances of bullying in middle-school-aged children, and ways to prevent other types of behavior in middle-school-aged children. Apart, the articles aren't perfect for the topic, but together, they give you all the information you need.

Take a piece of paper or open a new Word document on your computer. At the top, explain what your topic is and list as many useful keywords that you can think of. Then find a friend and trade topics; help each other by adding keywords that each of you may have missed.