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WRIT 1120: Pre-Search Workshop: Home

In-class activities for WRIT 1120 Pre-search workshops

What is Pre-Search?

Pre-Search is about being curious. The pre-search process involves gathering background information and context. The more you know about your topic, the more comfortable you will be as you search for academic sources and write about it.

Background and context might include:

  • identifying widely accepted knowledge related to your topic
  • finding definitions or explanations for unknown terms or vocabulary related to your topic
  • finding examples 
  • identifying key figures involved in the discussion (stakeholders or interested parties)
  • identifying events related to your topic
  • considering related concepts
  • understanding the history and/or timeline

The sources you find are most likely not the sources you will eventually cite in your research papers. Their main purpose is to solidify your understanding and identify search terms before you begin searching for scholarly/peer-reviewed articles or studies later in the research process.

Activity 1: Generating Keywords

How to talk to databases

When using Google, you can type a sentence or question and retrieve relevant results. Databases operate differently than search engines, so they require a different search strategy for a few different reasons.

  • As you conduct research in library databases, you are taking part in an ongoing scholarly conversation. Scholars and professionals often use specialized vocabulary that you may not use in everyday conversation. If you're using different language than the professionals use, you may be missing out on a lot of great information. 
  • Databases are more structured than internet search engines. In a search engine, your search terms can match words in the full text or the entire web site. In a database, your search terms need to match words in the data that describe the article such as the article title, the journal title, and the abstract (overview) of the article, not necessarily the full text.

Thus, we recommend that you:

  • carefully select the key concepts from your research question and combine those as keywords to search in a database
  • use the worksheet labeled 'generating and combining keywords' on this page to brainstorm for search terms

Activity 2: Use these recommended sources for pre-search

Today, we will use two different types of sources to gather background and context: subject-specific encyclopedias or reference books and chapters within eBooks. The scope of both of these kinds of resources suit our needs for pre-search very well.

Best Bets: Encyclopedias representing a variety of research topics

Best Bets: Book chapters representing a variety of research topics

Additional encyclopedias for specific subject areas