2. Consider the scope of your topic. If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information. If it is too broad, you can be overwhelmed with information.
Think about your assignment prompt while determining the scope of your topic. It is important to consider the size of the assignment and the length of time you have to complete it in thinking about scope.
3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. Know that your research question may change slightly depending on what sorts of resources you find. While you should have a topic or question in mind, allow the sources you find, along with your interests, to help shape and refine your topic further.
Questions to guide the development of your research question:
Is it focused enough to be covered in my paper or project?
Is there enough literature available on this topic?
What is the question that my research is answering?
Am I genuinely interested in this topic?
Is my topic going to be new and interesting to my audience?
Brainstorming keywords for your topic will help you refine your topic, find the most information about your topic and save you time by helping you search databases in a more efficient and systematic way.
1. Pick out the main ideas in your research question. For example, the main ideas in this research question are in bold: How do American Indian spiritual and religious traditions differ geographically in North America?
2. Take each of your main ideas and brainstorm as many synonyms, related words, acronyms, initialisms, and spelling variants as you can. For example, for "religious (traditions)":
3. Do this for each of your main ideas. Searching all the variants you can come up with will give you a broader selection of relevant information. Consider making a chart to keep track of which combinations of keywords you have searched for.
4. Know that there is no such thing as a perfect search. Searching is a process, so having a list of potential keywords will help you begin your research. You’ll find that different combinations of keywords will bring up different results in different databases. You can still learn something from every search you perform, so know that this list of keywords can continue to grow throughout your research process.
You can also use what you learn from searching to redefine your research topic or question.
5. Several other specific search techniques can help you use your brainstormed keywords. Take a look at:
Knowing the right keywords to search will help you start your search off right. Often, when students aren't finding good information--or any information at all about a topic--it is because they aren't using the correct keywords.
The best thing you can do before using a database is to think about the keywords that will best represent your topic. Write down your thesis statement and pull out the major terms in it. Then, think of as many different ways as you can to say those key terms. For example:
American Indians have diverse spiritual and religious traditions
Some keywords in this sentence are: "American Indians," spiritual, religious, and traditions. However, searching for these terms will get you only a fraction of the material that is out there, because if a different keyword is used to express the same concept you need to search for that keyword as well. Other keywords that could be useful when researching this thesis topic would be: "Native American," tribal, spirituality, ritual, cosmology, practices, ceremonies, etc. You may also broaden or narrow the search by searching for a specific tribe, a specific belief or a specific tradition. Your keywords might include Blackfeet or peyote or "Ghost Dance."
* Remember that you can combine keywords using the search limiters AND, OR, NOT. These will narrow or expand your search.
* Use quotation marks around words that make a phrase. Search for "Native American" rather than Native American or Native AND American in a database. This will ensure that the database knows that you want the phrase "Native American" and not every article with the word Native and the word American in it!
* Tailor your keywords to the database. Not all databases will pick up all keywords. Get your list of keywords and plug them into various databases to see whether or not they are useful for you in that database. If you go into a database with keywords and don't find anything, don't get discouraged. Take your words to a different database and see what you find there.
* Remember also that spelling and word usage changes over time. A search for "Navajo" may miss articles that use the spelling "Navaho." Likewise, when searching for a term like "religion" consider using other words such as "cosmology," "ritual" or "myth." These words may uncover some great material that you would miss by searching only for one term.
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