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Tip! A good place to start is "Onesearch." This is the first search you see on the library website. It's a good start because it is interdisciplinary and allows you to refine you keywords.  


Questions that can help you define you research goals:

  • "What am I trying to say?" 
  • "Who cares and why do they care?"  
  • "How is this research relevant to my internship work?"
  • "How can I learn more about this field of work through my research?" 

Writing down your thoughts and talking to someone else about what you are thinking about can be really helpful. Answering these questions can help you define what information you are looking for and where you might find it.

Tip! You want you research to help define your paper, but it helps to have an idea of what you are trying to say. Example: Water in Nicaragua. Are we talking about urban or rural water, drinking or agricultural, potency, or use?   

Find background information about your topic. Background information helps you to quickly identify trends, keywords, and major themes in an area. These sources are not comprehensive, but are good places to help you begin you thought process. 

This is where Wikipedia and Google are helpful. The more you read the easier it will be to find the right information. You don't usually cite Wikipedia, but use it to help frame you research question.

Tip! If you find something on Wikipedia that seems really helpful, check out the sources on that Wikipedia page.

Tip! Remember Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias give an overview of a topic, but they are not in depth. Which means they are not usually used in academic papers.     

Research is a process. Research is not just about finding things that support your argument, is is also about finding out what is being said. As you do research you will find more information that might lead to more questions or ideas. Taking the time to explore these will make your paper better.

Tip! If you are having a hard time starting, start with a basic search about your topic, read some articles and find something that interests you. Often you will find inspiration about what you are trying to say by reading what others have said. 

Tip! There is not one article that is going to say everything you want it to, but there are some that will support what you are trying to say and it may be a small part of the whole article. 

Example: I want to talk about the role women have in households in rural Nicaragua, but I can only find an article that talks about birthing at home with out the aid of medical care. This article explains that one of the reasons for this is mistreatment by male medical staff and that many women lack the voice to report mistreatment. While this does not directly talk about women's role in the household, it does give us an understanding of how women are treated in society. If women are marginalized by society it is likely that they are marginalized in the household. It also raises questions about the role of men in the family and maybe rather than talking about the household, I want to talk about women’s roles and standing in Nicaraguan society as a whole.  Link



Unlike Google, most academic databases do not search phrases or whole questions very well. When using databases you will need to narrow your research concepts down to search or key words.

Key words are words that describe a concept or idea on their own. For example, if we were looking for information about an area of land that has low precipitation and a hot climate, the key word might be desert. Combining them together helps us to link concepts in our searches.  


Research Concept: I am interested in the way water is used and distributed in rural Nicaragua.  

  • Possible Keywords:  water, agriculture, Nicaragua, farming, industry, water rights, drinking water, rural, pollution
  • Search phrase in a database: Nicaragua AND water AND agriculture AND pollution

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Kathryn Tallman


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Allan Van Hoye