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Writing a Research Paper: Step 2: Locate Information

Background Information

A great beginning step in the research process is to gather background information. Use specialty encyclopedias, ebooks and other reference sources to find out the history, background and current status of a topic. These sources will also give you some ideas for keywords to search with. The three sources below are some of our favorite places to start looking for information.

Wilcox Library Databases

You can use any of the tips on this page to search the databases that Wilcox Library subscribes to.

Keyword Searching

Keyword Search Rules for the Library Catalog and Databases

Using AND/OR/NOT (Boolean Search Operators)

Use AND to focus search and combine different aspects of your topic.

Example: vegetarianism and environment


Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.

Example: global warming or climate change


Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search

Example: emissions trading not United States


Additional Search Tips

"Phrase search"  - Use quotation marks" " to search for a particular phrase.

Example: "greenhouse gas emissions"

Truncation * - Use an asterisk to find variations of a word. Put an asterisk following the root of the word to find all variations of that word, including singular and plural.

Example: environment* (finds environments, environmental, environmentalist, etc.)

(Grouping/Nesting Keywords) - Use parentheses ( ) as a way to group all your search terms together.

Example: (climate change or global warming) and population growth

See the Basic Search Tips guides for more information, including examples.  Use the Search Generator from Northwest Missouri State University to help you create a keyword search.  Or use the Keyword Searching Worksheet to help you brainstorm keywords and put together your own search query.

Keyword Self-Quiz

Test your keyword skills! 

EBSCO Basic Search Tutorial

From Question to Keyword

Video courtesy of University Libraries, University of North Carolina Greensboro.