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HTA273: Episodes in American Documentary Photography

Search Strategy Worksheet

Use the worksheet above as an exercise to help you:

  1. Articulate your topic.
  2. Break down the topic into its main concepts.
  3. Turn those concepts into search terms.
  4. Come up with related terms (synonyms, broader and narrower terms).
  5. Manipulate your search terms with boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), truncation, and wildcard characters.
  6. Get optimal results!

This thought process will provide you with strategic options to use when formulating a search or when your search results are not satisfactory, whether you are searching for books in a library catalog, articles in a specialized database, or websites when using Google or any general Internet search tool.

Search Strategy Tips & Tricks


Search Strategy Tips and Tricks

When you find a really good article or book for your topic (whether or not you have immediate access to the complete item):

  • If there is a detailed citation or reference to the item (aside from the brief citation or the full text of the item), look at it carefully. Many research databases include assigned subject terms (aka descriptors, subject headings, index terms, controlled terms). Searching using these terms can improve the quaiity of your results, making the search both more targeted and more comprehensive. General keyword searching is not as thorough or as discriminating.
  • Look at the items referenced by the author in the bibliography, footnotes, or list of references. You may want to track down some of these items ('follow the bibliography').
  • Try searching for other items written by the same author.
  • Use a citation analysis tool to follow the article forward in time, that is, find more recent articles or books that cite the one you have at hand.  You can do this using the Cited By feature in Google Scholar.
  • If the article comes from a journal that is closely related to your topic, browse the tables of contents of other issues of the same journal.
  • Don't give up on what may be a really good item just because you don't see a link for the full text! Save the citation and we will help you locate it. Contact a librarian!

Evaluating Online Sources

The CRAP Test

Ask yourself the following questions about each website you're considering:


  • How recent is the information?
  • Can you locate a date when the page(s) were written/created/updated?
  • Does the website appear to update automatically (this could mean no one is actually looking at it)?
  • Based on your topic, is it current enough?


  • What kind of information is included in the website?
  • Based on your other research, is it accurate? ...complete?
  • Is the content primarily fact, or opinion?
  • Is the information balanced, or biased?
  • Does the author provide references for quotations and data?
  • If there are links, do they work?


  • Can you determine who the author/creator is?
  • Is there a way to contact them?
  • What are their credentials (education, affiliation, experience, etc.)?
  • Is there evidence they're experts on the subject?
  • Who is the publisher or sponsor of the site?
  • Is this publisher/sponsor reputable?

Purpose / Point of View

  • What is the domain (.edu, .org, .com, etc.)? How might that influence the purpose/point of view?
  • Is the author presenting fact, or opinion?
  • What's the intent of the website (to persuade, to sell you something, etc.)?
  • Are there ads on the website? How do they relate to the topic being covered (e.g., an ad for ammuntion next to an article about firearms legislation)?
  • Who might benefit from a reader believing this website?
  • Based on the writing style, who is the intended audience?

Adapted from Dominican University 

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