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Controversial Issues: Keyword Searching/Search Strategy

Writing an opinion or argumentative paper? Need to find quality sources on controversial topics? This is the guide for you!

Develop a Search Strategy

Need help to develop a search strategy?  Use our downloadable research plan worksheet.

Search Strategy


State Your Topic as a Question

  • For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"
  • Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are alcoholic beverages,health, and college students.

Too much information? 

  • If you are finding too many sources, narrow your topic by using the "and" operator.

For example: beer and health and college students

Too little information?

  • This may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. Broaden your topic by linking synonyms with the "or" operator. Look for information on students, rather than college students.

For example:  alcoholic beverages or beer or wine or liquor. Using truncation with search terms also broadens the search and increases the number of items you find.


Search TIPS

Truncation: *

  • The * is a common symbol used to replace any number of letters at the ends of words

  • Helps find singulars, plurals, and variant endings of words

  • Check each database's help pages to see which truncation symbol is used in that particular database

  • Example: vot* finds vote, votes, voter, voting, etc.

  • Example: communit* finds community, communities ​​


  • Most databases let you limit search results. Some limits include:

    • Language  

    • Publication type

    • Date of Publication, etc

Phrases: " "

  • Enclose phrases in quotation marks when searching the Web or most databases

  • Phrase searching in individual databases may vary. Check the help pages in each database for additional information.

  • Example: "voter registration" 

  • Example: "electoral college"


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