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ENGL0090 The Academic Essay

Build Your Search Around What You Want to Know

What is it that you want to know?

Why is your topic important to the scholarly conversation?

What do we know already?


"So what?" is a basic but important question!

Rather than just repeating what others say, doing good research is building on what you and others already know to create new knowledge. You, the researcher, become a producer of information, an important contributor to the scholarly conversation.

This is why it's important to be clear about your goals before you start researching. Having a good sense of the information you're looking for will help you figure out where to go. Ask yourself, What do I want to know?

So where do you start? The best place to start digging is at the beginning! Ask yourself, What do I already know about my topic?

Guided by your research question (What do I want to know?), use your prior knowledge (What do I already know?) to begin building your search strategy.

Build Strong Search Terms

1) Be specific.

Use similar terms, synonyms, or specific terminology. For example, instead of using search terms like figurative language you might use simile or metaphor, which are both examples of figurative language Or, use a specific term like biblical allegory.
Keep a list of keywords that work!


2) Search for phrases

Search for words that should always appear in a particular sequence-- that is, find an entire phrase-- by using quotation marks. "figurative language" will look for those two words as a phrase instead of looking for figurative and language as separate words.

3) Link and group your terms in specific ways.

Use AND, OR, NOT to yield relevant results.

AND allows you to combine terms to get more specific results. For example, metaphor AND whale AND moby dick will give you more relevant results than "figurative language" AND moby dick.

OR helps when you aren't sure which term might be used in a search. The search "figurative language" OR "figure of speech" will yield results containing at least one of those terms.

NOT excludes words from your results list. For example, metaphor NOT allegory will give you results that include metaphor but not allegory.

Use parentheses to group similar terms together when you use the above combinations.

A sample search combining AND, OR, and parentheses might look like this:

(metaphor OR allegory) AND whale AND "moby dick" 

Results from this search will include both the terms metaphor and allegory in combination with whale and "moby dick".

4) Get rid of what you don’t need or want.

Since metaphor is a specific type of figurative language, you don’t need to include both terms in your search.

5) Broaden terms to capture variation with * (asterisk).

Use an asterisk to search for a term that may have many variations, such as trag*. In this case, all terms that start with trag- will be found, including tragedy, tragic, tragedian, tragicomic, etc.
A search might look like this:  trag* AND Ahab.   [Ahab is a character in Moby Dick.]