Physics and Astronomy Library Guide and Resources: Research Strategy

Developing a Search Strategy

  1. Once you have chosen a topic, write it down in the form of a question or brief statement:
    What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  2. Underline the key words and phrases that are most specific to your topic.
    What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  3. Write down each key word or phrase, and underneath it, list synonyms or related terms.
    Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find additional keywords. For example:

    SAT

    • scholastic aptitude test

    college

    • university

    success

    • achievement
  4. Think about the singular, plural, and other endings of words and write down the root of the word.
    • SAT
    • scholastic aptitude test
    • college, colleges -- college
    • university, universities -- universit
    • success, successful, succeed -- succe
    • achievement, achieve, achiever -- achieve
  5. Write down your key words and phrases along with their synonyms in the form of a Boolean search statement. Use the root word, and truncate it with an asterisk (*). Note: Different databases use different truncation or wildcard symbols. Check the database's help page. For example:

    (SAT or scholastic aptitude test) and (college* or universit*) and (sucee* or achieve*)

Choose the Right Resource

When choosing resources for your assignment, consider:

  • Assignment requirements—what does the professor want you to cite?
  • Learn about your topic -- You may want to use a reference book like an encyclopedia (print or online) to start out with if you don't have a clear understanding of your topic yet.
  • Time—the more current the topic, the less will be found in scholarly journals or books, which take longer to get published. Recent events will be covered on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, as well as in the media.
  • Depth of coverage and/or the topic—scholarly journals and books cover topics in more depth than magazines and newspapers. Some topics are not covered by the popular press, e.g., research that would not be of interest to the average consumer.
  • Quality of the resource - see Step 3: Evaluating Sources
Type of Information You Need Try These Resources
Does your topic cover current events? Newspapers, magazines, Internet
Do you need general information on a specific topic, written in a non-specialist style?
Newspapers, magazines, Internet
Do you need in-depth information on a specific topic, written for the college student and above by authorities in the field? Scholarly journals
Do you need more detail and/or has the topic been written about for awhile? Books
Do you need an overview, quick facts, statistics on a topic? Reference books, Internet

Ask a Librarian

Ask a Librarian

At reference desk most hours the library is open.
(818) 677-2285
http://library.csun.edu/AskUs

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words (or, and, not) used to connect search terms to expand (or) or narrow (and, not) a search within a database to locate relevant information. Boolean operators are also called logical operators or connectors.

It is helpful to diagram the effects of these operators:

Or Relationship Image

women or females

Or retrieves records that contain any of the search terms. It expands the search. Therefore, use "or" in between terms that have the same meaning (synonyms) or equal value to the search.

And Relationship Image

women and media

And retrieves records that contain all of the search terms. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "and" in between terms that are required to make the search specific.

Not Relationship Image

image not weight

Not eliminates records that contain a search term. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "not" in front of a term to ensure that the search will not include that term. Warning: Some databases use "and not" instead of "not." Check the database help screen.