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COEN 3050: Complex Leadership Challenges: Next Steps


Welcome everyone!  Excited to be working with you all today.  This page will serve as a guide for the activities we do in class today.  Research is exploration - it is not a linear process, and searching  often requires trying a variety of search tools and search strings. As you are searching and find new information, you may get new ideas of topics to explore and search terms to try.  In addition, you are exploring many aspects of one issue, so your research for one week may inform research for another week.  That's why I recommend keeping a research log (as any good explorer would!).  

Below is a research log you can use.  Using the log is recommended (better to record what you've done in case you need to come back to it, rather than trying to recreate searches from memory) but not required.  I am going to make you do at least one search log as part of an assessment for today's session.  The assessment is for both of us - for you to remember and reflect on what we've talked about today, and for me to check in with your research and make sure everyone learned what we want you to learn.    

Research by Subject

First, pick an aspect of your topic to focus on with your research today.  Look at your Coggle Mind Map and choose something you are interested in exploring in more depth.  Next, think about what disciplines or subjects would study that issue.  Check out the library's Research by Subject page to help you pick a subject area that might conduct research and have sources on your issue.  For a lot of the issues you are exploring, there would be a number of relevant disciplines, but pick one to start.  You can come back and try other subject areas and databases later.

Once you've clicked on your discipline you will get a page of recommended databases and research guides, selected and created by the librarian for that subject.  Start with one of the databases they recommend for that subject - usually the top database is one of the best places to start.

Controlled Vocabulary

Next, it is time to start making your search string, or the words you will search with.  The keywords and ideas from your mind map are a great place to start.  You may also want to think about the words experts and researchers in this subject would use for this issue / topic.  Sometimes they have a term (something scientific or academic, perhaps) that is not what the popular press and most non-experts would use to describe that topic.  Many subject databases have a controlled vocabulary to help you look up what terms the experts in that discipline use.  Add those to your search.

The last step before searching is to put all of your search terms together into a search phrase, using AND & OR.

Linking Your Concepts

Many library databases have advanced search screens like this:

Advanced Searching with Boolean Operators

Boolean Searching Tips

Boolean Operator Example What it does
AND education AND "social mobility" Narrows your search
OR teens OR adolescents OR "young adults" Broadens your search
NOT "music education" NOT "music teachers" Weeds out unhelpful stuff
"" (Quotation marks) "multiple personality disorder" Searches an exact phrase, those words in that order
* (Asterisk)


(will include possibilities like communication, communicators, communicating, etc)

Includes all possible word ending variations

Consider Mind Mapping Your Campus Issues

Great free tool: 

Example: Quantitative Methods Coggle

Saving Your Results

Finally, we will save & organize your results in Zotero.  I recommend exporting everything you think might be relevant or interesting, especially with a big semester long project like this.  It is better to save an article and not read it, rather than trying to remember and retrace your steps later to find the article again (although your search log should help you retrace your research steps if need be).  

Finding People to Use as Sources

Finding a person who is an expert on your topic may be valuable for your research.  You may want to talk with them or interview them to learn more about your issue, or you may want to read some of their work. 

You are lucky!  As a CU Boulder student, you are living and working on a campus that is chalk full of experts on a huge variety of subjects.  How do you find out who has expertise related to your issue?  Here are some suggestions:


  • Search the CU Boulder website or conduct a site limited search in Google.  Type a few keywords into Google, and then add:

to limit the search to results only from the CU Boulder website.  Professors and researchers describe their research interests on their webpages, and these strategies will help you find the researchers focusing on your issue.