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KAUST Advanced Academic Reading and Writing


Search Strategy

What to know about keywords and search strategy

  • Write the 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 you be tackling in the number of pages assigned? Often, students 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 us 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.
  • Introduce a stakeholders column. Who cares? This helps us hone in on perspective, which allows us to identify expertise and publication. 
  • We need to use AND and OR to connect topics. 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. See the following example in a database:

  • Tips:‚Äč
  • Don't look for an article that lays out all the pros and cons of their controversy (basically, their paper in article form). You will need to find viewpoints from both sides and then synthesize the sources into your own paper.
  • 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.

Finding background information can help you locate keywords for searching databases and identify more specific areas of your topic that you may want to research further.

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