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ENGL 329 : Advanced Creative Nonfiction

Imagine Your Perfect Source

Many expert searchers describe “imagining their perfect source” as a key step prior to searching.

Here are some key tips for envisioning and then beginning to search for your ideal source. These strategies can be adapted for both database and open web searching.

Predict what you expect to find when you run a search. Ask yourself:

  1. When I run this search, what do I expect to appear?
  2. When I click this link, what do I expect I will see?
  3. When I find this answer, what do I expect it to look like?

Consider adding context terms to your search -- these are words in your query that are not part of the topic, but instead clarify the kind of result you want. It describes the kind of source you are looking for, and would actually appear in the title, tags, or text that is on the page. For example, "food forest infographic".

Remember that, even for expert researchers, your initial searches may not be successful! Use your first few searches as stepping stones, to teach yourself better word choices, new terms for your topic, etc. For example, an initial search on "food forest" can lead to similar, yet more precise terms, like "edible forest", "forest gardening," and "permaculture forest". 

Content adapted from Bergson-Michelson, Tasha. “‘Imagine Your Perfect Source’: Strategies for Cultivating Expert Researchers.”, August 17, 2017.

Search Tips

Use Advanced Search and limit features whenever possible. Subset limits, date limits, citation searches, subject searches, etc. -- are all useful timesavers.

More Search Tips:
  • Start with a general search.
  • Use quotes for phrases.
    • "modern dance"
  • Use AND to find all the words on your topic.
  • Use OR to find any of the words on your topic.
    • ex. dance AND (male OR masculinity OR men)
  • The symbol * is used as a right hand truncation character in most databases; it will find all forms of a word.
    • Ex. danc* will retrieve dance, dancers, dancing, etc.
  • Be flexible in your searching.
Too MUCH Information?
  • Use more specific words.
  • Narrow your search by adding more words connecting them with AND.
  • Do a subject search instead of a keyword search.
  • Put phrases in quotation marks.
Too LITTLE Information?
  • Try different search words, including synonyms, broader terms, or related words.
  • Use the truncation symbol * to get all forms of a word.
  • Try a different database.
  • Ask a librarian for help.