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ENG 2100 - Time-saving Research Strategies: Home

Use these time-saving tips and tricks while you search.

Time-saving Research Strategies

The content below addresses the following learning objectives, with the intention to assist you in making the best choices when selecting sources for your research assignment:

  • Students will recognize that consulting a variety of sources offers a more complete conversation related to their topic
  • Students will identify the purpose and audience of potential resources

This content will also provide guidance for effective information search strategies.

Plan Ahead

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Consider a Variety of Sources

In the academy, we tend to place higher value on scholarly publishing in journals and books. These are some of the sources that are subject to formal editorial or peer review processes before being published.

While these academic or scholarly sources offer an important perspective in their respective disciplines, remember that there are other perspectives that are not represented in the conversation that takes place within academic journals or books. Other perspectives may be included in the conversation via broadcast, print or online journalism, for example, which are subject to editorial review.

Still other perspectives, including, but not limited to, those of marginalized populations, could be represented on social media, blogs, and a variety of other media and formats.

Consider Purpose

When you consult different kinds of sources, you discover a more complete conversation about a topic because different types of sources serve different purposes. In addition, each source may serve multiple overlapping purposes, which can mislead readers at times.

Authors or creators of sources may set out to:

  • sell
  • persuade
  • educate or inform
  • entertain
  • encourage a particular behavior or action
  • respond to another author


  • Broadcast and print news, for example, offer a journalist's perspective which typically includes answers to questions such as who, what, where, when, why and how.  While the primary intent may be to inform, these sources typically include advertisements that "sell" products or services, as well.
  • Academic or scholarly journal articles typically report the results of a scholar's or researcher's original research project so their peers can benefit from any new knowledge related to their field. While the primary intent may be to infom, data collected may also be used to persuade the audience, for example.
  • A nonfiction or academic book might be written or edited by an expert and may include some history and/or thorough analysis of a topic. While the primary intent may be to inform, the publisher and author are likely to receive profits from their work, as well.

Consider Audience

Understanding the intended audience for a source is one consideration that can help you determine if a particular source will be useful. Consider the following audiences, although this is not an exhaustive list.

  • General audience: The author may assume that a mass audience will already know about their subject. These sources tend to be widely available, easily accessible and affordable or free.
  • Specialized audience: The author may assume an audience with varying levels of background knowledge.
    • For experts, sources tend to include detailed discussions and analysis.
    • For professionals, sources may include news, trends and best practices.
    • For novices, sources may provide some background and widely accepted information about a particular subject to provide a basis for their continued study.

Consider your own intended audience and purpose as you write. Which sources would be most appropriate to support your purpose for writing?

Generate Keywords

Professionals and scholars often use specialized vocabulary or jargon. If you're searching for one term, but the professionals use a different term, you may be missing out on some really good results.

A. Search with a combination of keywords that came to mind. Pay attention to your results. Are there other terms used in the titles or descriptions of the sources in your results list?

B. Be mindful of bias (intentional or unintentional) in the keywords you use to search.

  • For example: using the keyword success implies that you will find positive outcomes; using the keyword performance implies that you will find a variety of outcomes.

C. For argumentative papers, in particular, go beyond keywords such as "pro" and "con" or "for" and "against."

  • Instead, look for multiple perspectives related to the debate with keywords such as debate, controversy, or argument in combination with neutral keywords that describe your topic.
  • Having trouble?
    • To find results in support of a particular stance, use keywords such as advocate, champion, proponent, support, or sympathize in combination with neutral keywords that describe your topic.
    • To find results opposing a particular stance, use keywords such as oppose, opponent, disadvantage, drawback or shortcoming in combination with neutral keywords that describe your topic.

Identify Subject Headings

A. Take note of any relevant subject headings. This is one way to discover the vocabulary the professionals use to describe their article.

Subject headings are similar to hashtags. They describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings (a.k.a. descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases.

How is using subject headings different than keyword searching?

When using keywords

  • use natural language words describing your topic; a good start
  • you have more flexibility and can combine keywords together in many ways
  • many results may be irrelevant

When using subject headings

  • you are using a pre-determined "controlled vocabulary" used by professionals and stakeholders to describe content
  • you have less flexibility; you will need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • your results tend to be more relevant

Subject headings (or subject terms) look like this in your QuickSearch results:

Screenshot of database result


B.Click on the title of an article you like. The subject terms become links for you to click and get to all the other articles in the database described with that subject.

They might look like this:

Screenshot of subject list as links



Construct Effective Search Strategies

A. Use 2-4 keywords. The more keywords you use, the fewer results you retrieve.

B. Search all forms of a root word at once. For example, bank*=bank, banks, banking. Learn more with the Truncation link below.

B. Control your search by combining your keywords with AND, OR, NOT. Learn more with the Boolean Operators link below.

C. Is one of your keywords a phrase? Most databases allow you to specify that adjacent words be searched as phrases.

  • Using quotes around search words is a common way to do phrase searching, but not all databases or search engines use them.
  • Example: "gender inequality"

Broaden or Narrow Search Results

A. Too many results?

  • Use the tools in the left navigation menu in QuickSearch to narrow your search.
    • Use the timeline to limit by date.
    • Use the "filter by format" feature to select which types (academic journals, books, etc.) of sources you need.

B. Too few results?

  • Check for misspellings in your keyword search.
  • Remove quotation marks from your search terms if you used them (see the box labeled "Construct Effective Search Strategies", tip C for details about phrase searching).

Find Full Text

A. Having trouble finding the full text of the article? Watch the "How to Find Full Text" video, linked below.

If you are still having trouble accessing the full text, you can chat with a Wright State librarian online by clicking on the "Ask a Librarian" link below.

Use QuickSearch to Find Sources

Now that you have some strategies in mind, employ them while finding sources in QuickSearch, an interdisciplinary database featuring a wide variety of resources about a wide variety of topics.

Use Subject-specific Databases to Find Sources

Writing in the disciplines? Consider using a more focused, subject-specific database to search for sources.