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. It can be messy but exciting. 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, I encourage you to 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. These words and phrases can be magical, as you've now got some of the words that experts use when they discuss your topic.
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.
It's highly possible you will 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. Scholars read interesting studies or articles or books in their field; scholars 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. This page has more information on how to conduct a bibliographic trace.
Librarians are personal research consultants. We can help you think through possible search terms, suggest specific resources to search, 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.
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 traps. The tips on this rest of this page will help you self-correct.