Guide to Library Research
Mary Livermore Library
Unit 2: Refining a Topic

Testing Your Topic

Now that you have a list of keywords, you can use them to test the viability of your topic. Try typing them into various databases to see how many resources you find on your topic.


Example: You want to see if you can find sufficient information on your topic of college students' alcohol use and grade-point averages.


First, type some of your keywords into a box in the Library's online catalog, BraveCat, which is used to search for books and videos in the Library. Remove the "s" at the end of any plural word and replace it with an asterisk (*), so that you can search all possible endings. You learn more about this technique, called truncation, in Unit 4.

 

Put similar keywords inside parentheses and separate them using "OR" and combine different sets of keywords using "AND" (see the example below). Using "OR" allows you to search many keywords at the same time, while "AND" allows you to narrow the focus of your search.

 

(college or university) and student* and (alcohol* or drinking or substance abuse) and (GPA or grades or grade point average)

 

The above search produce only a single item. That means the focus is too narrow for this particular database. The best thing to do is remove one of the concepts and search again. Remove the keywords that refer to "grade-point average" and search just (college or university) and student* and (alcohol* or drinking or substance abuse) (see image below).

 

BraveCat Search

 

The new keyword search in BraveCat produced a list of over 20 items. There is a good chance that a number of these resources will discuss the various consequences of alcohol abuse while in college (including a drop in grade-point average).

 

Start off by searching Pembroke holdings only. If you do not find enough relevant resources, complete an UNC Coastal Library Consortium search in BraveCat. This search will turn up relevant books at Fayetteville State University (FSU) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), as well as UNCP. You can obtain books from FSU and UNCW by completing a hold request in BraveCat. (We will cover hold requests in Unit 4 of this tutorial.)

 

Next, type your keywords (college or university) and student* and (alcohol* or drinking or substance abuse) and (GPA or grades or grade point average) in the Find box in the article database Academic Search Premier, which is available at http://www.uncp.edu/library/electronic/english_comp.html.

 

This search produced a list of over 130 journal, magazine, and newspaper items. In Unit 4, you will learn about many other article databases you can search.

 

Finally, you can type your keywords into an Internet search engine, such as Google.

 

 

Note: Do not use an asterisk when using an Internet search engine—search engines automatically consider all possible endings of words (see image above).


This Google search produced a list of more than 94,000 items. Of course, many of these items probably will not be relevant or credible, since anyone can place information on the Web. You will learn to evaluate possible sources in Unit 5.


These "tests" of your topic proved that you indeed can find enough information on your topic of "college students' alcohol use and grade-point averages." You're ready to move on with your research.