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Identify Search Terms

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How to identify the best terms for relevant search results.

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Cantina Rag by Jackson F. Smith is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) License.

The Research Process

Choose a topic.  

Do a brain dump: Note down what you already know about your topic, including

  • Names of people, organizations, companies, time period you are interested in, places of interest [countries, regions, cities]

Fill in the gaps in your knowlege: get background information from encyclopedias or other secondary sources.  Wikipedia can be good here.

Select the best places/ databases to find information on your topicLook under the History Databases tab of this guide for article database suggestions. Or use a catalog like Oskicat or Melvyl to search for books and other resources.

Use nouns from your brain dump as search terms.

Evaluate what you find.  Change search terms to get closer to what you really want.

Refine Your Topic - Using the information you have gathered, determine if your research topic should be narrower or broader. You may need to search basic resources again using your new, focused topics and keywords. 

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Research Advisory Service

Research Advisory Service for Cal Undergraduates

Book a 30-minute appointment with a librarian who will help refine and focus research inquiries, identify useful online and print sources, and develop search strategies for humanities and social sciences topics (examples of research topics).

Schedule, view, edit or cancel your appointment online (CalNetID required)

This service is for Cal undergraduates only. Graduate students and faculty should contact the library liaison to their department or program for specialized reference consultations.

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