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Communication Research Guide

Basic Search Tips

Before you start searching for information, take time to plan your search strategy. This is a crucial stage of the research process as:

  • It will save you time
  • Your searching will be more structured
  • Your search results will be more relevant

When you start out, you may feel overwhelmed by the breadth of information available. However, by planning your searches in advance and applying effective search techniques, you will find the most relevant content for your needs.

This worksheet will help you create your search plan. Break your topic into its key concepts, brainstorm alternative search terms, and identify the best databases for research on this topic. 

You've selected your topic and done some background research, now it's time to think about searching. Before you jump into a database and run searches, identify potential search terms from the key concepts of your topic.

This short video below introduces some strategies for choosing search terms to get more relevant search results.

Selecting Proper Search Tools
Type Information Use Example
Website Websites provide access to information, images, videos, and audio.
  • to locate government information/documents
  • to find current information
  • when you have plenty of time to evaluate the site

US Bureau of Labor Statistics

US Census

United Nations

Newspaper A collection of articles written by journalists about current events. Typically published daily.
  • to locate up to date information about a current event
  • to find local information
  • to read editorials, commentaries, or expert/popular opinions


Newspaper Subscriptions

Magazine A collection of articles and images about a variety of popular topics and current events. Articles are written by journalists for the general population.
  • to find information /opinions about popular topics or current events
  • to learn more about a topic if you are not an expert in the field



Psychology Today

Scholarly Article / Peer Reviewed A collection of articles written by scholars or experts in the field. Scholarly articles, also called academic articles, can be found using databases and cover a wide range of topics and can either be original research or analysis of an issue or topic.
  • to locate original research
  • to find specific studies within a field of research
  • to locate literature reviews on a topic

Academic Search Complete

Databases by Subject

Book Provide in-depth coverage of a subject. Often include historical or contextual information regarding a topic.
  • to put a topic in context
  • to learn the history of a topic
  • to find in-depth analysis or summaries of a topic
Brookens Library Catalog
Reference Material Materials such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks are considered reference materials. Reference materials can be found both in print and online.
  • to learn more about a topic (background research)
  • to locate key terminology, people, or dates

Credo Reference