Skip to main content

INT 250 Honors Seminar: Pre-search tools and tips

From Topic to Research Question

Explore Questions to find a research question:

  • Ask open-ended "how" and why" questions about your general topic.
  • Consider the "so what" of your topic.  Why  does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others?
  • Reflect on the questions you have considered.  Identify one or two questions you find engaging and which could be explored futher through research. 


Example Research Questions:

Ok: Are video games bad for kids?

Better: Does playing violent video games lead to more aggressive behavior in children?

Ok: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?

Better: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antartica? 

Importance of Keywords

To get started with research, you will need some good keywords.  The better your keywords, the better your results will be in a database.  You are probably already familiar with using keywords when you search for information on Google. But using a library database or online catalog can be very different from searching Google, and you may need to be more selective with keywords.   


Presearch time: 

Presearch is commonly used to describe the preparation work you do before you even start doing your real research.   It's during this phase that you will determine what keywords are best to use when searching a database.  Note, you can have several different combinations of keywords and you'll find yourself identify new keywords to use as you go through the research process. 

1)  Start with your main idea or topic. Choose something general and something that you are interested in. 

2)  Background research:  Do a search online or find a Wikipedia article on your topic.  Although you shouldn't cite a Wikipedia article or rely on it as your only source, it can be a very useful tool for getting background information on your topic and help you identify relevant keywords to use when searching library databases.  Another way would be to use a reference book or conduct a search in one of our reference databases

3) Another method for coming up with keywords is to use the search results from a database search.  Almost all library databases will include related subject terms in the record for an article, or even provide a handy list on the search result page. 

Subject Term list provided on search result page:

Subject Terms in the record of an article:


From Research Question to Keywords

Does playing violent video games lead to more aggressive behavior in children?

Tip: Putting quotations around a phrase like "video games" is called exact phrase searching.  It helps the database to understand that you are looking for a very specfic multiple word phrase as opposed to the two words being searched for seperately. 

Download Presearch Thinking Tool Worksheet

Presearch Thinking Tool Worksheet Example