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LRC (ULIB1001) - Search Basics: Step 1 - Plan the Search

Search Basics - Library Research in Context module 1

Step 1) How to Start a Search

There are 3 general steps to the search process:


Step 1) Plan the Search

  • Broad to Narrow

Step 2) Run the Search

  • AND/OR/NOT and Filters

Step 3) Refine the Search

  • Subject Headings
  • Other Search Tools: Exact Phrase Searching and Truncation


We will go over each step in more detail in a tab on this LibGuide while going through an example search. Please follow along with the guide and do the steps in another tab! If you ever have any questions about anything, please let either one of your professors know.

Here, we will go over the first step of the searching process: planning the search. The EXAMPLE bullets demonstrate an example search. Keep the search terms in the EXAMPLE bullets in mind, because we'll be using them to search in the database in the next step of the search process!


Step 1) Plan the Search

  • First, pick a broad topic according to assignment guidelines.
    • EXAMPLE: A professor asks you to do a project on the history of your favorite food. So, in this step, you think about food in general, and choose your favorite food (for this example, it'll be "cookies.")
  • Continue to make the topic of your presentation/essay/etc more and more specific, until you reach an answerable question.
    • Searches, in general, go from broad to narrow.
    • EXAMPLE: Because you chose "cookies," and the assignment asks about the history of a food, you can go from broader questions like "what is the history of cookies?" to something more narrow like "what is the history of cookies in the United States (cookies from a specific place)" to something more narrow still like "what is the history of American cookies (a specific type of cookie) in the United States (a specific place)?"
  • Grab terms (called "keywords" in searching contexts) from your answerable question to use in your actual searches.
    • EXAMPLE: From the most narrow question in the above ("what is the history of chocolate chip cookies in the United States?"), there are a lot of terms (keywords) you can use to search. Nouns are usually great search terms, so keep the terms "cookies," "history," and "United States" in mind as you start the search itself.
      • Also, think about terms that are related to the terms you've already found. For example, for "cookies," some related terms could be "baking," "bread," and "cooking."
      • Don't forget the terms from the original assignment question as well! The professor wants you to do a project on "the history of your favorite food," so a good word to keep for your future searches would be "food."
      • The more words you have at the beginning, the better! You can always see which ones are more useful, and so cut the others out, as you do more searches.


In the next tab, we'll be using some of these terms to actually do Step 2, Run a Search! To go to Step 2, please click here or click on the Step 2 tab above.