Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
PCC Library Logo

ENG 111: Basic Research

This guide will introduce you to research and writing for English courses

Basic Search Tips

Search EffectivelyUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. You will need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: 

  • What is the importance of the green light in The Great Gatsby?

Keywords: 

  • importance
  • green light
  • Great Gatsby

BrainstormMost words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym or another very similar keyword. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!

 

Example 1: 

Keyword: green light

Possible synonyms: green aura, green color

Example 2:

Keyword: importance

Possible synonyms: significance, relevance, emphasis

Keep an Eye Out!

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

FocusMost library databases have search tools built in.

Try some of these:

  • Subject: 
    Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: 
    Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: 
    Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: 
    Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!

Advanced Search Tips

Use AND

Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention your keywords:

  • green light AND importance

Add Keywords

Add more keywords in order to focus the results even more:

  • green light AND importance AND Great Gatsby

Use OR

Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords:

  • importance OR significance

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.

Combine OR and AND

A great way to use OR, is to combine it with AND. So, to expand your search results, you could try this:

  • green light AND (importance OR significance

When you do this, put parentheses around the keywords connected with OR. Now you will have a list of results that all mention green light, and either importance or significance.

Choices IconIf your search results are not what you expect, there are several options you can try.

Use Quotation Marks

If your results don't seem to match up with your keywords, try putting quote marks around exact phrases. This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.

"green light" AND importance

Check Your Spelling

It's always a good idea to make sure that your search terms are spelled correctly. You may also need to try using a different form of a word

Ask a Librarian!

Sometimes you just need to ask for help. Some research topics are more tricky than others and getting help from a librarian can save you a lot of time.