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ENG 112: Basic Research

Basic Search Tips

Unlike 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: 

  • Are bananas actually in danger of becoming extinct due to disease?


  • bananas
  • extinct
  • disease

Remember! When searching databases, you only need to include the most essential components.


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: bananas

Possible synonyms: Cavendish banana, Gros Michel banana, musa

Example 2:

Keyword: disease

Possible synonyms: Tropical Race 4, Panama Disease, Fusarium wilt, banana bunchy top disease (BBTD)

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.

RefineMost 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

Venn Diagram: bananas AND extinct


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

  • bananas AND extinct

Add Keywords

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

  • bananas  AND extinct AND monoculture

Venn Diagram: TR4 OR Tropical Race 4Use OR

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

  • TR4 OR Tropical Race 4

This will find sources that include either word or phrase, 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:

  • bananas AND (TR4 OR Tropical Race 4

When you do this, put parentheses around the keywords connected with OR. Now you will have a list of results that all mention bananas, and either *TR4 or *Tropical Race 4.

*Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is a fungus, which chokes bananas of water and nutrients.

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.

"Tropical Race 4AND "Panama Disease"

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.