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*Education Resources

Updated July 21, 2017

Brainstorming keywords

Keywords are the cornerstone of most database searches. A keyword search looks for matching words in titles, descriptions, abstracts, and other descriptive information. Sometimes the author provides keywords; the database will also assign subject headings (a controlled list of terms) to aid in searching.

Some ideas to get you brainstorming keywords:

  • Browse journals to get a sense of how researchers talk about your topic.
  • Talk with your research advisor (often your instructor) about their expectations for the project and topics that will be most helpful.
  • Consider larger fields where your topic fits.
  • Take note of popular stories on the topic that interest you. How do they talk about the topic differently from academic researchers?
  • Consult a librarian. When you talk to someone outside of the field, you can get an outside perspective that can help guide your research.

Search Strategies

Construct a search strategy

  • Define your topic: Are you looking for classroom management techniques, improving reading proficiency in middle school students, or studies on teaching to multiple intelligences for elementary students?
  • What question do you want to answer?
  • Identify key words and phrases that describe your answer
  • Brainstorm alternate spellings, related terms, broader concepts, and more specific concepts

Select a database

  • Browse the Education databases
  • Pick 1-3 databases that look most relevant to your search- most of the databases have international coverage, so you may need to limit your results by geography
  • The Ebsco and Proquest ERIC interfaces allow you to search by educational level, audience, and type of resource
  • If your topic is broader and encompasses social aspects, you might try SocIndex to find sociological research

Test and refine your search

  • Test your keywords and phrases in each database
  • If you don't find what you're looking for right away, try some of the alternate terms you brainstormed earlier
  • Refine your search using the side menu options

Advanced search techniques

Phrase Searching

Place several words within quotes to search those exact words in that exact order.

  • "classroom management"
  • "second language acquisition"

Truncation and Wildcards

Use a symbol (usually * or ?) to search all words that start with entered letters.

  • pedago* searches for pedagogy, pedagogies, pedagogical
  • disab*  searches disabled, disability, disabilities
  •  *assess* matches preassessment, post assessment

Boolean Operators

AND searches for both terms, OR searches for either term, NOT omits a term.

  • "inquiry-based learning" AND "group work" NOT "science"
  • "teaching techniques" OR "learning strategies"

 

 

Source type

Different types of sources contain different kinds of information. Considering the source type when searching for information and refining results will help you gain the best kinds of materials for your project based on the projected audience, purpose, and other needs.

In most databases, you'll encounter the following source types, often known by these names:

  • Article: relatively short (up to 50 pages) pieces of writing on a specific subject, from a specific perspective. Most scientific research is published in this medium, and many humanities scholars use articles as a platform to launch and test out new ideas for future books. 
  • Citation: a reference that points to the location of a work. Use citations to find the location, and request the full item through interlibrary loan.
  • Review: usually refers to a piece of scholarship that addresses the value of a book to the larger academic field, or one that discusses the state of an academic field as a whole.
  • Case study: a piece of research that examines a single instance (or a few instances) of a phenomenon in depth.
  • Book: a standalone piece of writing in monograph form.
  • Conference proceedings: a collection of short writings that were the basis for a presentation at a conference.
  • Magazines: collections of articles. Usually refers to popular resources.
  • Journal: collections of articles and reviews. Usually refers to scholarly resources, and may contain peer-reviewed articles.
  • Dissertation: the final stage of earning a Ph.D. Dissertations are heavily edited and supervised by major scholars in the field, but they are not peer reviewed.

Documenting your search

Maintaining a record of your search is is a good way to ensure the completeness of your research. A systematic strategy of recording searches helps you to assess the changes to your searches as your research progresses, and it helps others replicate your searches for their own systematic reviews of the subject.

Many databases, including SuperSearch, provide features to help you document your searches when logged in. It is worthwhile to create an account in databases to save your searches and set up search alerts.

Saved searches retain the information from searches you've already done. Some databases allow you to export the information from saved searches easily. However, not all databases retain static records of the searches. That is, the results from a search you do today will not be available in a year; the database will perform the same search again, with the most recent available results.

Search alerts notify you when new content is available within your search parameters. This feature can be useful to keep you informed about your research topic while saving you the time of redoing searches every few weeks or months.


In your documentation of the various searches, you'll need to register the following:

  • databases and platforms (e.g., ERIC via EBSCO, ERIC via Proquest, or ERIC via U.S. Department of Education): This will help you recall where you conducted the searches.
  • date for each search: Matching research to your dated notes will help organize your information.
  • subject and keyword: Include here which terms you explored during the search, and which terms you truncated and expanded.
  • combinations of terms: Record what variations of term combinations you used in the search.
  • number of results: The total number of results, regardless of their relevance to your research, will help you identify changes since your last search.

In hand-searching (looking through journal contents by hand), take note of the source and the year.