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Research Guides@Tufts

First-Year Writing

Tisch Library Guide to Conducting Research for First-Year Writing Classes

What do you do if you can't cite Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a background source, which includes lots of helpful information. But you can't cite it for lots of reasons (anyone can edit Wikipedia entries and, even worse, we don't know who they are). So what do you do? Wikipedia is a source of background information, which comes from places like dictionaries and subject encyclopedias. Background sources provide contextual information and answer straightforward questions. They include definitions, statistics, and other details. You can use this type of source to:

  • Help narrow your research topic
  • Find data to support your thesis
  • Identify keywords and main ideas to use as search terms.

Most importantly, the library has academic sources of background information, which you can find on this page!

Developing Ideas and Keywords

One of the hardest tasks when starting research in a new area is identifying what the major issues and concepts that can provide you with an important frame of reference. Before you start looking for in-depth information we suggest that you do the following:

  • Think about what you already know about the issue
  • Think about what you want to know more about
  • Learn more about what issues are being discussed related to your area of inquiry

Once you have identified important concepts translate them into keywords or short phrases so that you can start to search. As you conduct your research you will be able to identify additional and more specific search terms.

As you start searching select one term or phrase from Column A and one term or phrase from Column B. Run additional searches with alternate terms from each column.

Sample Question: I want to learn more about the environmental impacts associated with global warming.

  Concept A
Environmental Impacts
Concept B
Global Warming
Concept C
(Use as Needed)
Starting Search Terms & Phrases and Alternates environmental impact
environmental effects
environmental factors
global warming
climate change
greenhouse effect
More Specific Terms & Phrases Related to Each Concept agriculture
  United States
New England

Additional Search Tips

Phrase Search: Use "quotation marks" to search for a particular phrase. Example: "greenhouse gas emissions"

Truncation: Use an asterisk to find variations of a word. Put an asterisk following the root of the word to find all variations of that word, including singular and plural. Example: environment* (finds environments, environmental, environmentalist, etc.)

Grouping or Nesting Keywords: Use parentheses ( ) as a way to group your search terms together. Example: (climate change OR global warming) AND population growth

Developing a Research Question

What makes a research question "researchable"? (Courtesy of Northern Kentucky University Steely Library)

Mapping Your Research Ideas

Keyword Search Rules

Using AND/OR/NOT (Boolean Search Operators)


Use AND to focus search and combine different aspects of your topic.

Example: global warming AND agriculture


Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms or related terms.

Example: global warming OR greenhouse effect


Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search.

Example: hurricanes NOT North Carolina