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RHETORIC: I-Search Assignment

This guide was developed in collaboration with Rhetoric TA Kaden St. Onge during the spring 2022 semester. The guide provide process based guidance and resource suggestions to support students' I-Search paper research.

Activity - Mapping your topic

Creating a concept map can help you begin to think about your topic and create a search strategy. As you begin a project, your topic may evolve, but you need to identify what you know about it and what questions you have. Concept maps include the key concepts associated with your topic, alternative terminology for those concepts, and the relationships between the various aspects of your topic.

To create a concept map:

  1. Write down your topic or question.
  2. Circle the main concepts.
  3. For each concept, list keywords, such as synonyms, examples, and other ways of describing the concept.

Feeling stuck? Here are some questions to get you going:

  • Are there other ways to describe the concept?
  • What is the opposite of the word or concept?
  • Is there a genre/overarching concept?
  • Can you think of a more specific example?
  • Can you think of who cares about the topic? Those names or organizations can be used as search terms, too!

Write down any questions you come up with during the process. Those questions may help develop a more precise topic, or determine different avenues of inquiry around the topic. 

By doing this activity, you have just created a whole list of keywords that can now be used to do a much richer and more varied search of the research databases. This means better results to work with! Good job, you!

Search Strategies & Tips

Here are some basic searching tips to use when searching a library database, library catalog, or even in a Google search. Ask a librarian for more help if you are not finding the type of information you need about your topic. 

Keywords, Broader terms, Narrower terms

  • Combine the keywords you developed to describe your topic using Boolean operators and other search strategies. You can connect terms using the Boolean OR operator to get the database to broaden your search. Use the Boolean AND operator to narrow your search. Use the Boolean NOT operator to exclude results. NOTE: You should remove all "stop words" from your search. Stop words include articles, prepositions, or essentially any word that is not a crucial, meaningful word. Examples: a, an, the, in, of, are, be, into, which, about, that, etc.
    • global warming OR climate change 
    • alternative fuel AND ethanol 
    • dolphins NOT football 
    • (television OR TV) AND (actors OR actresses) 
    • "interpersonal relationships" AND technolog* AND (United States OR America*) 

Use quotation marks for phrase searching to retrieve results that contain an exact phrase.

  • "war on drugs" 
  • "interpersonal relationship" 
  • "climate change" 

Use truncation to get the database to search for a root word plus any possible endings

  • flood* - flood, floods, flooded, flooding 
  • econom* - economy, economic, economical 
  • psycholog* - psychology, psychological, psychologist 
  • technolog* - technologies, technology, technological