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RHE 398T Help Materials

These pages support instructors of RHE 306 and RHE 309 to teach information and digital literacy skills.


Search Strategy

What to know about keywords and search strategy

Students are not proficient searchers. 

  • Encourage organization (see Activities tab)
  • Walk them through an example to teach them how to ask questions about their topic and to dig up a rich keyword strategy from research (suggestion below)
  • Many students searched library databases in high school. Have them lead a demo in class.

Go through an example with your class:

  • Write your sample controversy down on the board. Our broad topic example is: Artificial intelligence threatens privacy. Let's narrow this together.
  • Underline key concepts (AI, threaten, privacy).
  • Brainstorm broader, narrower and related terms for each of the key concepts.
  • Note: this is a good opportunity to talk about paper scope - what should students be tackling in the number of pages assigned? Often, they approach this like writing a book. Reel them in.

artificial intelligence
(examples, broader and narrower terms)

(synonyms and examples of how privacy is compromised)
(related terms and types of privacy)
amazon echo surveillance medical records
siri data mining security
technology GPS marketing
  • Take this opportunity to discuss how using value-laden terms will help them find viewpoint articles. Our topic doesn't have any, but think about an example like, 'undocumented worker' vs. 'illegal alien' and how those terms reflect a value.
  • Since students will be writing about local issues, discuss how keywords related to location may help. This may be the part that makes or breaks their topic. Work with students on choosing topics that have a local relevance.
  • Introduce a stakeholders column. Who cares? This helps them hone in on perspective, which allows them to identify expertise and publication. 
  • Explain that students need to use AND and OR to connect topics. Explain that AND narrows a search by requiring both words to be in the results and OR broadens it by allowing for any of the words connected by OR to be in the results. Demonstrate in a database:

  • Tips:‚Äč
  • Students are often looking for an article that lays out all the pros and cons of their controversy (basically, their paper in article form). Explain that they will need to find viewpoints from both sides and then synthesize their sources into their paper.
  • Explain to them that searching for terms like pro/con or for/against will not work since there are rarely the words people on either side of an issue use to describe themselves (pro-life/pro-choice rather than pro-abortion or con-abortion; collective bargaining and right to work rather than for or against unions)
  • Do not use terms like: effects of, reasons why, causes of, etc. as they are imprecise. 

This interactive tool guides students through the process of creating an effective keyword search for their research topic and then allows students to email the results to themselves and their instructor. Students can also launch the search in the Library Catalog, Academic Search Complete, or JSTOR.


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