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Writing 116 (Koehler): Research Process Overview

Writing in the Natural Sciences

Research Process

#1 Identify your question. Identify the key concepts and related terms.

Tip:  You may decide to re-phrase your question. Background reading and preliminary database searches can help you identify related terms and further define or narrow your topic. 

#2 Find an appropriate search tool. Consider your subject matter, discipline of study, type of information needed (e.g. peer reviewed articles)

#3 Start with a simple search based on your key concepts. Tip: You may also have to look at literature that refers to one (not all) aspects of your research question.

#4 Use specific search strategies.

  • Use AND to join dissimilar terms. Use OR to join synonyms or related terms.
  • Truncate words with * to pick up variations of that word.
  • Use "quotation marks" for phrase searching.
  • Use database filters e.g. limit to scholarly journals.
  • Consider searching in a specific field e.g. title (article title) or source (journal title)

#5 Search and skim results. Look for the language and terms that researchers use and that the database assigns to articles (Subjects).

#6 Switch up your searches.  Use promising new terminologyYour search may become more sophisticated.

#7 Explore bibliographies to locate other articles, books, or authors who have written on the same topic. Find known items. Tip: See "Find a Known Item" tab on this guide.

Search Terms

Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try out a variety of searches in databases.

  • Identify the key concepts of your topic.
  • Create a list of synonyms or related words for each concept. Think of words that you expect to appear in a book or article.

Example: What are the interpretations of paleolithic art?

  • interpretations --> criticism, history, meaning, etc.
  • "paleolithic art" --> "cave paintings", "cave art" , "rock art", etc.

Turning a Research Question into a Search Strategy

Made with Padlet

Brainstorming Keywords