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Geological Sciences

Good Search Strategies Make a Difference


The most important step is defining your topic.  Try writing it out in a sentence or as a question.  You may start your research with one sentence or question and modify it as you search.  Defining your topic and conducting a good search are often an iterative process.


Brainstorm possible search terms

Using your topic sentence, break up long phrases into separate ideas and search terms.

  • Topic sentence or question: Is carbon sequestration a good option for mitigating global warming?
  • Search terms: carbon sequestration and global warming

Think of synonyms or related terms

  • geologic storage, carbon sink,
  • greenhouse gases, air pollution, climate change, global warming


Use logical operators AND, OR, or NOT to combine your terms.  Use quotation marks to keep words adjacent during your search. Use the truncation symbol  * to retrieve various forms of the same word (for example sequest* will retrieve sequester, sequestration, and sequestered).

  • ("geologic storage" OR "carbon sink" OR "carbon sequestrat*") AND ("global warming" or "climate change")
  • Some databases, such as the Advanced Search section of GeoRef, will prompt you through this search construction process with labeled boxes.

Research Tips

Do preliminary searches before settling on a topic
Don't assume there will be a lot of information on your topic. Do a few searches before committing to an idea. You may find that you need to narrow or broaden your topic. For example, if you start with a question about carbon sequestration, you may decide to limit it to geologic storage in sedimentary basins or geologic carbon sequestration.

Focus on scholarly sources
Use primarily scholarly or peer-reviewed sources. Such articles can be found by searching one of the Library's databases, and are typically labelled as peer-review or scholarly. They may also found by using Google Scholar to search the Internet. If you are not sure of the difference between a scholarly journal and a popular resource, please scroll to the Types of Sources section of this Evaluating Sources guide page to learn more.

Books vs. articles
Books may be helpful for background information and for familiarizing yourself with a topic. Articles can provide more current information and typically address a very narrow piece of a topic. The scope of your assignment will determine which types of sources are best.

Keep a log of your search process
Stay organized by keeping track of which sources you've consulted, and which search terms yielded better results. 

Cite as you go
Even if you're not sure whether you will use a source, it's much easier to note the citation information up front than to decide you need it later!