Keep track of your search and your results. Remember research is a process and you may try many things before you find what works best for your topic. If you think of it like troubleshooting a problem on your computer that might help.
Keep track of your search terms and jot down other words you find while perusing the articles that result from your searches.
The "search history" option under the search box can also help with that.
Email, print, or save articles that might be useful for your research, even if you're not sure that you're going to use them.
This sample topic is used to demonstrate how to pull out keywords and critically assess your topic.
If your topic is:
What is the influence of Spanish literary custom on Medieval lyric poetry?
1. Identify keywords or phrases:
Spain(ish) literature culture Medieval lyric poetry
2. Explore synonyms for your keywords/phrases:
Medieval: Middle Ages, Dark Ages, Gothic
Culture: customs, tradition, practices
3. Use these terms in your search. Combine the synonyms with the word "or".
For example: Medieval OR Middle Ages OR Dark Ages OR Gothic
4. Make use of the Subject Headings option on the left of your screen to find appropriate subject headings for your topic and use them in a search
Note: some of your initial keywords may be similar like literature and lyric poetry. Other keywords you could use for either of these terms: literary, poems, lyric poems, prose or because we are disucssing Spanish literary customs from a specific time period, you can use non-English terms such as "kharjas" or "Mester de Juglaria". You could also look at specific famous poems such as Cantar de Mio Cid or Mester de Clerecia.
Use unique, specific terms. If you're researching a subject with a unique vocabulary, don't be afraid to use those terms. It's the difference between searching "ocelot" (8,490,000 results in Google) and "Leopardus pardalis" (387,000 results in Google). That's over an 8 million result difference.
By using specific and/or unique terms, you are likely to find more relevant information. It is also likely to be of a higher quality, as most people don't use professional vocabulary casually.
Remember to search in the advanced search mode
Enter your 1st keyword(s)/phrase(s) in the first line (using our sample search from two tabs ago, Medieval or Middle Ages).
Your second concept in our example is culture. Enter that key phrase and any synonyms in the second line of the search box. Your search results should then include both concepts somewhere in the record.
You can add as many concepts as you like - all databases and the library catalog will allow you to add more than the default 3 fields when you're in advanced search.
Below you see an example of combining 2 concepts with multiple keywords in a database.
Once you have collected some articles, take a closer look at them.
Reading these sections of an article/book will help you determine if the item you're looking at is relevant to your research. The title, abstract and discussion/conclusion are usually all you really need to read from an article to see if you can use it.