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JOUR479O - Special Topics in Research Methods: Understanding Audiences

Resource guide for sources to assist students preparing the research proposal for Professor Xu's JOUR479O class.

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Maggie Saponaro
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Subjects:Journalism

Search Strategy Worksheet

Use this worksheet to help identify terms and create a search strategy to use with databases and when searching the Internet:

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Research Overview

Welcome! This is a step-by-step guide designed to help you perform a literature review using library resources.

Begin by:

  1. Finding a topic and creating a search strategy -- identifying keywords and brainstorming for synonyms
  2. Locating relevant sources
    • Use WorldCat UMD to find books, DVDs, government documents etc.
    • Use DatabaseFinder to access databases for articles from magazines, newspapers and journals
  3. Analyze your results and re-search again (if necessary)
  4. Being sure to cite your sources

Creating a Search Strategy

The first step is to identify the main concepts in your research question.  Next, brainstorm for synonyms and related words.  For example, you could use Terrapins but someone else might use the term Terps; in order to find all of the relevant results you will have to use both terms.

Boolean operators are used to connect keywords in a way that all search engines understand. The most commonly used ones are: AND and OR.

Boolean Operators Visual Aid

Example: Maryland AND (Terps OR Terrapins)Be careful when combining AND and OR in the same search sentence as the search engine may not interpret your search the way you intend because of the order of operations (like in math class). Use parentheses to keep ORs together. 

You may also choose to limit your search results by excluding certain terms. To do this, use NOT. For example, if you want articles about a certain journalist's career but not editorials about them, you could search:

(Cronkite AND career) NOT editorials. 

Use the NOT connector sparingly, as you may eliminate some articles or information that could be useful. This connector can, however, be a helpful tool if you have a large number of items in your results list and you want to refine your search.

Using Truncation and Wildcards

Truncation and wildcards are other ways to help you to locate additional information on a topic, and locating variant spellings of terms.

Truncation    (* Symbol)

Wildcards   (? symbol)

Finds all forms of a word (most databases use the * symbol).

Replace any single character, either inside the word or the
right endof the word. A wildcard (?) cannot be used to begin a word.

For example, entering econ* will search for
economic
economics
econometric, etc.

but it will also pull terms such as econoline (the automobile)
- so be careful where you insert the truncation point on a word stem.

For example, entering wom?n will search for
women and woman. 

A note about keyword searching: Remember, if you search a database with a certain word or phrase and you don't retrieve results you feel are relevant, it doesn't mean that there are no other articles in that database on your topic. It may mean that you need to try other related words in your search, such as synonyms.

Helpful Hint: Use Your Findings to Locate Additional Research

One tactic to try in a literature review is to take a moment to review the list of notes, references or resources included in a source that you feel is particularly on-target for your review. In this way, you can start with a small list of resources, which can then "grow" via links to other relevant research. This can also be a means of locating key studies - so be on the lookout for "repeat" citations (articles/works cited by more than one study).


Another tactic to try is to search Worldcat UMD for published bibliographies on an author of note. To do this, enter the name of the author and add the word "bibliography."


As you are assembling your list of resources - consider entering them into a grid to see what common themes/ideas emerge. A source of a sample grid that can be used for this purpose is "How to Prepare a Source Grid: An Example Project" - although you are free to develop your own style for organizing/tracking your results.

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