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ART: Search strategy

An introduction to research for University of Redlands students

Learning objective

  • Recognize the benefits of iterative research and multiple strategies.

Research is iterative

Venn diagram showing that research is a cycle of reading, searching, and creating

Research is NOT a simple, linear timeline: first you have a question, then you find sources, then you write a paper, and you're done.

Rather, it is like a cycle or spiral in which your ideas evolve by repeatedly searching, reading and creating information. You can expect to need to find more information throughout your research project for several reasons:

  • As you learn about your topic and address some parts of your research question, you will find additional questions to answer and your curiosity may be stimulated to shift your research in new directions.
  • The process of trying to set down your thoughts in writing or in words will make you aware of gaps in your understanding. This is a signal to find new sources or more deeply engage with what you have already found.
  • Major research projects may include an opportunity to revise your work in response to feedback from peers or your professor. You may need to search for more information to address these revisions.

Recommended reading

Use multiple strategies

Concept map of a six part strategy for finding information, including keyword searching, subject searching, browsing, looking up citations, reading reviews and asking people for help.

The best search strategies use multiple methods to find information. This lets you adjust to the setbacks that are a normal part of learning. You can simply switch over to a different strategy and start anew. That may be all you need to turn up a key source that unlocks your research for you.

In the following sections, we'll learn about six different strategies for finding information: through keyword searching, subject searching, browsing, looking up citations, reading reviews, and asking people for help.

Go beyond Googling

Many of us are used to finding information through Internet search engines.

Web searching through Google and DuckDuckGo is effective when you already know what you're looking for and the answer to your question is something specific, such as the hours a store is open or the Wikipedia page on a person.

They aren't as effective when you don't know what you're looking for and the answer is a matter of interpretation. Of course, that is the essence of research - learning something new (to you) and making sense of multiple perspectives.

Library search tools such as catalogs and databases have been designed around the needs of scholars. These specialized search tools make it easy to discover information and determine whether it is relevant, even if you don't know the right words to search on.

Key points

  • Research for class assignments is an iterative process.
  • Effective researchers use multiple strategies and take advantage of special tools designed to meet the needs of scholars.