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College Writing: Using Sources:
Search Strategically

Think before you search

When we dig into a source, we think about authorityaccuracyrelevancecurrency, and objectivity. But you can start to consider these criteria before you look for sources! Be a strategic searcher by planning ahead.

Think about the types of sources that would be most relevant for your topic. Do you need background information and overview, or are you looking for in-depth research, data, and analysis? Would sources from newspapers, magazines, or websites be appropriate for your topic, or should you search for scholarly articles, research reports, or books? It's a good idea to look for a variety of sources that address different aspects of your topic or thesis.

Consider who the experts on your topic might be and where they would publish their knowledge. Can you find any research institutes, universities, or government agencies that study your topic, or any organizations that advocate for issues related to it? What terms and phrases do the experts use to discuss this topic?

Use the form below to start brainstorming. This will give you a better sense of where to look and what keywords to use when you search for sources.

Planning your search

Now what?

Were you stumped about any items on the brainstorming form? If you aren't sure who the experts are, what special vocabulary they use to describe your topic, or where information about this topic might be published, it's time to do more background research!

If you're starting with Google, search smarter by limiting the date range of your search results to a certain time period, or by searching only within a specific domain such as .org, .gov, or .edu. (Remember, you always need to evaluate the credibility of your sources even if they're from these types of URLs.)

For more background information about your topic, try searching in the library databases listed below. You can also explore recommended resources for your subject area by using the library's Research Guides.

Suggested databases for background research:

Have questions? Library Services is always here to help! Ask the library or meet with a librarian.