RHETOR 1B: Collateral Language: Alibis We Kill By

Analyze your topic

Write down your topic.  Identify and mark the most important keywords (the ones you would definitely want to include in a search).

Example:  
What is the role of euphemisms in public discourse about war?

For each keyword, see if you can think of synonyms or closely related concepts that you might also want to search.

Example:
war or military

Build and refine your search

Library catalogs and article databases offer several ways to narrow or broaden, or otherwise control your search.  Below are common methods; if they don't work, look for a "Help" link!

Most default to a quick keyword search (somewhat like Google) that assumes you want items containing all the words you type.

Example:
euphemisms war

Most let you truncate a word with a wildcard symbol (usually * ) to get plurals and other variant forms.

Example: 
euphemis*
gets euphemism, euphemisms, euphemistic

Most offer an Advanced Search with more options, such as searching on an author's name, or words in a title.

REFINING YOUR SEARCH
If your search retrieves too many items, use more specific terms, or put in additional keywords.

Example: 
euphemis* iraq war
gets fewer items than euphemis* war

If your search gets too few items, use more general terms or remove some keywords.

You can also combine terms with OR to get more items.

Example: 
war OR military
gets items containing either term.

FINDING RELATED ITEMS
In library catalogs and most article databases, click on the title of an interesting item and look in the detailed display for links (blue underlined text).  These may include the author's name, "Subjects" or "Subject headings".  Clicking on one of these links will do a search for items tagged the same way.

MANAGING RESULTS
Many catalogs and databases allow you to save items to a list/folder/etc. and e-mail, print or download the citation.  Some will allow you to output citations in a particular citation style (ex:  MLA or Chicago).

Evaluate what you find

Most books and articles you find through the library website are suitable as sources for your paper - but some are not!

Examine each source carefully to see whether it's "scholarly".  Scholarly publications include footnotes and bibliographies documenting their sources, list the author's credentials, and in most cases have been validated through a peer review process.

For guidelines, see our Critical Evaluation of Resources page, or watch this 5-minute silent video.

If you're using web pages found through Google or other search engines, evaluation is especially important, since these tools have no built-in validation of the content.  For help, see our guide to Evaluating Web Pages.

Last Update: May 08, 2012 10:52