Skip to Main Content

Prof. Werner - English 101: Search Strategy

Starter Sources

Is it Narrow Enough?

Narrowing a topic requires you to be more specific about your research interest and can help you to develop a thesis.

Questions to Narrow Your Topic

  • Who? Who is the specific person/group to which you would like to limit your research?


  • What? What specific aspect, theory or technique of the broad topic idea is interesting to you?


  • When? On what time period would you like your research focused?


  • Where? To which specific geographic area or region would you like to limit your research?

What is a Thesis Statement?

A thesis is typically a one sentence statement in the first paragraph, or beginning, of your project that states your purpose. Thesis statements should be arguable, specific, detailed, and meaningful.

Questions for Research

  1. Who is invested in these topics and why? Who are the experts?


  1. What are the major conversations about the topic?


  1.  What events, actions, laws have happened most recently?


  1. What are the academic or professional fields that intersect with this topic both historically and today? Where are experts writing, speaking, and producing data about this topic?

  2. Why is it important to study this topic?

Developing a Search Strategy

Step 1: Understand your topic

Summarize your research topic in one sentence, or write it as a question. Highlight key words or phrases in it.

For-profit prisons increase incarceration rates, which in turn harm families and communities.

Step 2: Think about related topics

List any additional keywords or phrases you can imagine. (These plus the ones in Step 1 are your “search terms.”)

Incarcerate, prisoner, offender

Private Prisons, Privatization, Profit, commercialization, resources, taxpayer

Children, spouses, parents

Community, employment, offender re-entry

Step 3: Brainstorm search terms

  • Study these search terms. Using the boxes below, put related terms into groups or concepts.
  • Think of alternative keywords for each term ( synonyms ; broader or narrower terms ; related concepts ; alternative spellings ), consider terms used in recommended reading or you could learn more about the topic from reading an encyclopedia article from the library's Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  • Truncate terms to expand your search results e.g. impact* will retrieve.... impact, impacts, impacting.


Prison demographics

Family Members (parents of, children of, partner of)

Mental Health

Non-violent Crimes

African American Men

Minority Men

Discrimination in sentencing

Removal from Community



Human Rights


Corrections Industry

Contract* Services

Prison Industry





Forms of Punishment

Financial Incentive to incarcerate

Step 4: Construct a search statement

Link the search terms using the Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT)

AND – narrows a search OR – broadens a search NOT – Excludes Term

Use quotation marks to keep phrases together. e.g. “global warming”. 

Rehab* programs AND (Privat* Prisons OR Non-Profit Prisons)

"Discrimination in Sentencing" AND Incarcerat*

Search Strategy

Celebrating 75 Years of Excellence!

Westchester Community College provides accessible, high quality and affordable education to meet the needs of our diverse community. We are committed to student success, academic excellence, workforce development, economic development and lifelong learning.

Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook

75 Grasslands Road
Valhalla, NY 10595
Tel: (914) 606-6600