Chapter 8: Gathering Research and Establishing Evidence

Search Strategies: Plan, Refine, and Modify

Search engines such as Google allow you to use ordinary or natural language. You can type a fully formed question and you will likely get some relevant results. The research databases that libraries provide work differently. For best results, you should break down your research question into main concepts that can be expressed as a keyword or a short phrase. You will also want to identify related terms for your concepts, including synonyms that mean the same thing or almost the same thing  (e.g. corn OR maize) and variant spellings (e.g. jewelry OR jewellery; color OR colour). Failure to consider variant spellings and terms in use in different regions of the world could cause you to miss out on important research by scholars who are accustomed to using a variant word for the concept. Your keywords and phrases become your search terms. You can connect your terms with special words called Boolean operators. This will be explained more fully shortly.

Let us use this hypothetical research question:
Are comics a good way to teach William Shakespeare’s plays to high school students?

Concept 1: comics OR graphic novels OR manga
Concept 2: teaching OR study OR learning
Concept 3: secondary school OR high school
Concept 4: Shakespeare
Concept 5: drama OR plays OR theatre OR theater

What are some ways that you might measure success in the study of a play? A student must understand what they have read. This points to the topic of reading comprehension. Another possible measure is memory retention. These ideas could be expressed in additional concepts:

Concept 6: reading comprehension
Concept 7: memory retention

In this case, there are probably too many concepts broken out. You may want to reorganize your list and prioritize three or four concepts to search at the start. If you search for too many concepts, you may get no results.

After exploring your research question and finding some supporting articles, you might develop a thesis statement along the following lines:
Comics and graphic novels are important tools for teaching secondary school students Shakespearean drama. Their use of visual narratives bring enhanced meaning to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century English language and improve both reading comprehension and memory retention.

Your Turn!


What is your research question?

What are your key concepts?