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Get started with research

Learn how to use RRU Library resources to get started with your research.

Identify concepts and keywords

Before you start searching for information, first identify the main concepts in your research topic and do some preliminary brainstorming to come up with a list of related keywords. Google can be useful in this regard because it suggests keywords related to your search query, but you’ll need to go beyond Google for your research. Whether you’re using the Library’s Discovery search tool, or searching the Library databases directly, it’s important to be thoughtful about the keywords you use.

Library search tools and databases use the keywords you provide to retrieve results that are relevant to your topic.

Consider this example topic:

  • What are the effects of advertising on children's mental health?
  • The main concepts here are children, advertising, and mental health.

Once you identify the main concepts, think about other words you can use to describe them. Brainstorm synonyms and other related words to describe each of your main concepts.

  • For example, other words to capture the concept of children are youth and kids.
  • Advertising could be similarly described as commercials or media.

By brainstorming keywords to describe your main concepts, you are better able to find useful and relevant information. You will also likely find additional terms in the books and articles you retrieve from your initial searches, which you can use as you continue searching.

Use advanced search techniques to build a query

Defining your research topic, and identifying the main concepts and keywords, are the first steps toward developing an effective search strategy. The next step is to connect your keywords in a way that tells the library’s Discovery search tool or library databases what to search and find.

Boolean Logic
You can use the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT to add expand, narrow, or exclude terms from your search.

Use OR to expand a search by including different terms that may be used to describe a specific concept.

  • For example, if you were looking for information about the environmental impacts of different waste management practices, you could search garbage OR recycling OR composting to return results that include any of those terms.
  • You might also use OR to include several different terms that may be used synonymously or that refer to closely related concepts. For example, challenges OR stressors OR problems OR barriers.

Use AND to narrow a search by indicating that you want results that include all of the concepts in your search.

  • For example, if you want to find materials related to resilience in leadership, you could search resilience AND leadership.

Use NOT to exclude terms from a search.

  • For example, if you were looking for information on digital literacy and privacy, but not related to children, you could search "digital literacy" AND privacy NOT children.
    • If you are searching on Google Scholar, you can use a minus symbol immediately before the term you want to exclude instead of the word NOT. So the same search as above on Google Scholar would be "digital literacy" AND privacy -children.
  • Note: You may not need to use the NOT operator for most searches. Excluding terms from your searches can sometimes eliminate too many results, including results that might include the word you are trying to exclude, but that are still relevant to your topic. For example, if you excluded the word health from a search because you didn't want results about the health professions, you may also eliminate results that adress things like mental health, physical health, health outcomes, etc.


You can use parentheses to "nest" or combine items that the search should consider together. You can think of this as similar to the order of operations in math.

  • For example, searching resilience AND leadership AND barriers OR challenges would likely return materials that include either all three of the first terms (resilience, leadership, and barrier) or the last term (challenges). You can use parentheses to search resilience AND leadership AND (barriers OR challenges), which will return materials that include both of the first two terms and either of the two terms in the parentheses.

Phrase Searching

To search for an exact phrase, enclose your keywords in quotation marks.

  • For example, searching digital literacy would return results that include the words digital and literacy in any order, anywhere they may appear, not necessarily together as a phrase. Searching "digitial literacy" will return results that include digital literacy as an exact phrase.

Keep in mind that the more concepts you add to a search, the fewer results you will get because you are narrowing your search. You will likely need to try out many searches based on your research topic. The research process is iterative, meaning you will try some searches, modify them based on your results, and then try again.