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Special Education Research


Getting Started with Special Education Research

2020 Library Search Update

You may have noticed a slight change in the Library search this year. The new search work similarly to the old system, but you may notice a few differences. If you find yourself with questions about how to do something in the new system, check out our Search and FAQ guides linked below.

As you work toward completing your research projects, remember that the research process is NOT linear. It's usually more of a circular process and there may be many times where you jump back and forth between the stages of your research. While not everyone's research process will look exactly the same, the following model can give you a better idea of how the research process often works.

In order to search most effectively for articles that pertain to your research topic, take a little time at the beginning of your project to plan out your search strategy.

1. Break up your topic/research question into it's primary concepts

  • i.e. What impact does tobacco use have on the lung health of teenagers?
  • Population - teenagers
  • Problem - tobacco use
  • Outcome - lung health

2. Brainstorm synonyms for your terms (see more in next tab)

  • i.e. teenagers, teens, adolescents, youth, young adults, juvenile

3. Add quotation marks around exact phrases and be sure to include both singular and plural

  • i.e. "young adults", "young adult"

4. Search one concept at a time using ORs to include all of your synonyms and then combine your searches with AND

  • Search 1: teenagers OR teens OR adolescents OR youth OR "young adults" OR "young adult" OR juveniles
  • Search 2: tobacco OR smoking OR vaping OR cigarettes OR nicotine
  • Search 3: lung health OR "respiratory health" OR "respiratory distress" OR dyspnea OR asthma OR "pulmonary disorder" OR "pulmonary disorders" OR "pulmonary disease" OR "pulmonary diseases"

1. Save time, prepare to research!

  • Break your research question into key concepts (you'll connect these in your paper to make an original argument)
  • For each of these concepts, brainstorm multiple keywords

Sample Topic:

   Services for college students with disabilities 

Key Concepts


college students


Related Keywords

assistive tech*

higher education


  • Try this keyword tool to brainstorm online and send the results to yourself.

2. Combine keywords using AND and OR:

  • Too many results? Try using quotation marks around an exact phrase. Ex: "students with disabilities"
  • Still too many results? Narrow using AND. Ex:  "students with disabilities" AND "assistive technology"
  • Too few results? Broaden using OR. Ex: "students with disabilities" AND (campus OR college OR university OR higher education)
  • Put parentheses around synonyms.
  • The asterisk finds multiple endings from a root word. Ex: wom* will bring back women, woman's, wombat, etc.

3. Brush up on the search tools available:

  • Here are search tips for Google.
  • Databases often include their own search tips. Tip: Look for a help link or a gear symbol.

Core Sources for Education Research


Janelle Hedstrom's picture
Janelle Hedstrom
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