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WRIT 340: Advanced Writing Communication for Engineers

Research Guide for students in WRIT 340 Engineering.

Searching as Strategic Exploration

"Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops." ACRL Framework for Information Literacy


First, it is important that you review your assignment guidelines. Are you required to use a specific number of sources? What kind of sources are can you use (books vs. journal articles vs. newspaper articles, for example)? How long is your paper? Are you presenting this research?

Second, identify your topic based on your assignment's guidelines. It's okay to start with a broad topic and narrow down as your do more research.

Third, identify databases to search based on your topic and what kind of sources you want to find.

broad topic, narrow topic, focused topic, research question

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Starting brainstorming your topic early on. If you already have a topic in mind, you can begin doing some preliminary searches to learn more about your topic. If you do not have a topic ready, you can look at newspapers (like Wall Street Journal)  and popular science magazines (like Popular Science and Scientific American) to find current STEM topics.

example brainstorming

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Search Log

Keeping track of you searches will help you stay organized and avoid repeating your searches. It helps you stay efficient with your time and provide a record of your work thus far. A search log can document date of when you searched, where you searched (what databases?), what terms you searched, any filters you used, number of results, and any notes or comments to yourself about what was successful or unsuccessful.

search log

Developing Keywords

Identify the main ideas/nouns from your research question.

  • ex. How will virtual and augmented reality change education?

Brainstorm synonyms for these important terms.

  • ex. virtual and augmented reality: VR, AR, 3D environment, artificial intelligence (AI)

                  education: teaching, learning environment, school, curriculum


The main words you highlight along with their synonyms provide the foundation for what terms you should try searching.

Boolean Searching

Now that you have some keywords to search, let us think about how we can broaden or narrow our search. Using Boolean operators is a helpful way to achieve more refined results.

AND, OR, and NOT (must be capitalized) are the most popular Boolean operators.

  • ex. virtual reality AND education
  • ex. VR OR AR AND education


You can also refine your search using any databases' filters. They are often a variety of ways to filter a search via refining the publication date, the format (article, book, conference proceeding, etc.), etc. 

Active Filters applied are articles, peer-reviewed journals, available online, years: 2010-2020, and English.