Research isn't a linear, predictable process. We often hit roadblocks. Our search terms don't yield the results we hoped for. We find a great article but it's in a language we don't read or speak. We can't seem to find enough sources to answer our research question.
The problem is not hitting obstacles, it's giving up when we do. Research requires us to be flexible and adaptable. Above all, it requires us to persevere through roadblocks. Research is iterative, not linear. This means as we gather information, we're also refining our research topic or question. We then see which information gaps we have, so we then do more research to find additional sources, and then repeat the process further. It can be messy but exciting. Often, where we start is not where we end up. It requires time, patience and perseverance.
This page outlines some of the blocks you might hit, as well as ways to navigate those stumbling points. Rather than give up, take a step back, assess your search approach, and try something new. And please contact a librarian with any issues - we can help you solve them!
The best way to discover the right search terms to use is to figure out how experts in the field are discussing the topic. There are many ways to do this:
Sometimes a particular word or phrase seems to unlock your search magically. As you explore your topic, keep an eye out for key words and phrases that the experts use.
Once you identify some of these words and phrases, use them as search terms in various databases and the library catalog. Even if you've already searched these resources, try again with the specialized vocabulary and see if you find new resources. If you're having trouble, check with your instructor or a reference librarian.
Databases and library catalogs have specialized search features that will help you conduct more sophisticated searching. Use these various features to save yourself time and headaches.
You might encounter research materials written in a language you don't read or speak. This can be frustrating, but here are a few tips to navigate those situations.
It's easy - and normal - to default to resources that have worked in the past. If Google Scholar or Academic Search Premier helped us find materials for a project in a different course, we naturally would use it again. But be sure to expand your resources, too. There are a lot of specialized databases for various areas that you should use in addition to others that worked.
Scholars commonly explore the conversation surrounding their topics through bibliographic traces. They read articles or books in their field and then mine the citations in those works to find related research materials. They also look for more recent research materials that have cited the first resource. Our Research as Conversation page has more information on how to conduct a bibliographic trace.
Librarians are research consultants. We can help you think through search terms, suggest specific resources to search, help you track down sources and point you in directions you may not have considered. There are many ways to get in touch with us.
Your professors are also here to help, plus they are experts in the field as well. So talk with them about your research & any problems you're having. Visiting during office hours is a great idea!
Here are some common mistakes people tend to make while conducting research. We all do at least some version of this, but it's good to recognize when we fall into some of these patterns. The tips on this rest of this page will help you self-correct.