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Adler University

Research Process: Start Here

Break your topic into keyterms; map terms to subject headings; use AND/OR to combine searches. Learn the difference between peer reviewed & scholarly sources.

Research help

Ever search for something and get hundreds of thousands of results, but then when you add more terms, you get zero?

It's happened to all of us!

A good rule of thumb is to always get your results under 80 before you look at them. Two ways to do that: 

  1. Refine your topic - use the Visualize Your Topic tab to learn how to do that
  2. Use subject headings to search by topic, rather than specific words - see the tab Subject Headings for what these are & how to use them.

We strongly recommend making an appointment with a librarian for any questions along any point of this process. We'd love to work with you!

Chicago campus:

Vancouver campus: email

Online campus: email:

How do I start my research?

1. Visualize your topic

2. Search relevant database(s) for your topic

     A. Use databases' subject headings

     B. Combine terms

     C. Refine your topic:

  • Finding articles can be part of determining your topic!
  • You might need to narrow or expand your initial topic.

     D. Narrow or expand search, as needed

  • Be sure results are under 80 to get relevant results
    • Add another term 
    • Add limits 
  • If narrowing brings your results too low:
    • Use another database
    • Broaden your search terms
    • Try citation chasing

3. Read the articles you find! Use what you read to locate more articles

4. Evaluate your resources. 

5. Get organized! Save your citations & create your bibliography.

STEP 1 - Determine your topic

Start with this video on choosing on adjusting your topic from North Carolina State University Libraries.


This guide was created by Frances Brady for Adler University.