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FYS Conceptual Architecture

The Research Assignment

Before selecting a topic or starting your research, make sure you understand your assignment and its requirements. Consider the following:

  • Have you been assigned a topic or can you pick your own?
  • How many pages/words do you need to write? How long is your presentation?
  • Do you need to include specific types of sources? (e.g. scholarly journal, book, etc.)
  • When is the assignment due? How much time do you have to research?
  • Is currency of information important?

When in doubt, consult with your instructor.

Research -- search and search again

They call it "research" because it requires persistence and flexibility -- search and search again.

Try both keyword and subject searching.

Narrow a search by using subject headings.   Locate subject headings by looking at the descriptors associated with pertinent articles and books. 

Try these tips to narrow your search.

Try synonyms (AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).   Can't think of any synonyms?   Try an online thesaurus.   Try these tips to expand your search.

Try both singular and plural forms of words.   Use an "*" in Academic Search Premier to get a variety of word endings.

If searching a compound word, try it as one word and as two words (for example,  rain forest and  rainforest).

If searching a word with an internal dash, search it in each database with and without the internal dash (for example, search both x-ray and xray).

Keyword Search

Free text, natural language or keyword searches are used with computerized databases and search engines.

  • Searches any and all fields of a computer record for the term
  • Every article that mentions the word will be retrieved


+ Excellent for new concepts or terminology
+ Will retrieve lots of results


- Must think of all other synonyms
- Results will often not be about your topic (your term was only mentioned in the article)

Subject Search

Controlled vocabulary, descriptors, index terms or subject headings are used in computerized databases.  Articles are analyzed and the content is matched to a limited number of specified terms.

  • Searches only the field specified by the search (subject, descriptor, etc.)


+ Results will be about your topic
+ No need to think of other synonyms


- If you don’t use the correct term, you could miss some or all pertinent information