Converting your topic into a structured search

Take your topic from a plain English thesis statement or research question and convert it into a format that a search engine will give good results.

Here's how:

1. Break your topic into completely separate concepts and put them in separate boxes.

For instance:

Topic: What motivates adult learners taking online courses?

adult learners 
online courses

2. Brainstorm additional words and phrases that could also mean each of these concepts, and separate them with OR:

adult learners OR adult students OR non-traditional students OR nontraditional students
online OR distance OR web-based
motivation OR attitudes OR intention OR self-efficacy

Get help from professors, librarians, and friends to come up with these terms!

3. Use two key tools to control these terms: putting quotation marks around phrases, and truncating words that could have variant endings in English (like singular/plural forms for nouns):

"adult learn*" OR "adult student*" OR "non-traditional student" OR "nontraditional student*"
online OR distance OR web-based
motivat* OR attitude* OR intention* OR self-efficacy

In the first line, "learn*" will match learner, learners, learning

In the third line, motivat* will match motivating, motivation, motivations, motivated, etc.

4. Plan what additional limiters you want to use on the search, such as:

  • only peer-reviewed articles
  • only English language results
  • only results published in the last 10 years

Then go to OneSearch Lite, and copy these boxes of terms into each of the search boxes provided. You don't have to use all of the boxes, and you can use the + button to add more if you need them. Select the limiters you chose in step 4, then click on Search.