Skip to Main Content
Phillips Library Banner

CRJ 1010 Introduction to Criminal Justice System

Searching a database is different than typing your question into Google.

You need to be precise in your language and communicate using the language of the database.
You can learn to be an expert searcher with these strategies. 

Use the Advanced Search

Use the advanced search feature to form a smarter search. Separating out your concepts helps the database understand what you mean.

Using advanced search also makes it easier to set other requirements for your research, like the date range during which it was published or what type of material it is.

The button for advanced search will look different on each database platform, but it's worth finding it. 

Search Tips


Identify keywords for your topic and brainstorm narrower, broader, and related terms.

Example: Factors that affect academic performance in first-generation college students.

Academic Performance College First-Generation Students
Student Success Higher Education Children of Immigrants
Student Achievement University Minority Students
Learning Outcomes Community College Nontraditional Students


Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators AND, OR, and NOT allow you to broaden or narrow your results in the library catalog and databases. You can easily use these to clarify what you need by choosing the advanced search option.

Peanut butter AND jelly, only results with both terms; Peanut butter OR jelly, results with either or both terms; Peanut butter NOT jelly, results with peanut butter only, excludes results with jelly and with both terms.


Found too many results?

Add more keywords.

Adding additional keywords to your search can help to further narrow your topic.

Example: college AND first-generation students AND academic performance

Use a filter

Look on the left side for ways you can filter your materials. Here are a few to consider, depending on your needs.

  • material type - such as a book, newspaper article, or review
  • peer-reviewed - to find scholarly articles
  • date - typically to find the most current materials
  • subject - to find articles about a certain topic


Found too few results?

Try different search terms.

What other words could you use to describe this concept? Brainstorm related terms, synonyms, and slightly different forms of your word or phrase. Also brainstorm broader categories or concepts it belongs to, as well as narrower elements or examples. (See the keywords section above for examples.)

It may also be useful to consider the official, academic, or formal way to write that term. This is more likely to be used in academic writing.

Use fewer search terms.

Sometimes less is more! The more words, phrases, or subjects you ask the database to find, the fewer sources will meet the criteria.

Use OR.

Broaden your search by using the boolean operator OR to link your terms.

Example: (college OR higher education OR university) AND first-generation students AND (academic performance OR student success)



To begin, take out a blank sheet of paper or open a document:

  • Were you provided with a list of possible topics by your professor? Which do you find interesting?
  • If you were not given a list of possible topics, what do you find interesting about the course?
  • Are there any controversial aspects to this topic or area of study?
  • List any questions you have about this topic or area of study.
  • Browse through your textbook for possible topics.
  • Discuss possible research topics with friends and classmates.  

If you're having trouble creating a list of topics use a current events database which provides background information on many topics.

Try It!
  1. Free-writing, write down whatever comes to mind. Don't worry about correct spelling, etc.
  2. Put yourself on a timer, start with writing or listing ideas for 3 minutes
  3. Create a diagram, write your central idea in the middle of the paper and add branching aspects

Narrowing Your Topic

Some topics are too broad to be a successful paper topic, especially if you are only writing a 5 to 8 page paper.  For example, tackling a topic like Healthcare or Fashion without choosing a more specific focus will leave you with a large pile of relevant research to sort through.  Let's narrow these topics by focusing on a specific area of interest.

Narrowing Concept Healthcare Fashion

People - Is there a particular group of people within this topic that interests you?  Consider age, race, gender, political affliation, educational background, etc.

Pregnant Women Men
Place - Consider geographic elements such as countries, regions, etc, or explore situational elements such as hospitals or affluent neighborhoods. Western World Italy
Time Period - Are you interested in modern or historic issues?  Can you name a specific time period? Last 500 Years 1600s
Point of View - There are many different ways to consider a topic.  Some examples include Legal, Psychological, Historical, Religious, Political and Scientific. Historical Religious


Final Topics: Western childbirth rituals in the last 500 years AND Men's religious apparel in 17th century Italy.




Library Information

Information & Research Help

630-844-5437 (phone)

630-844-3848 (fax)

630-796-7615 (text)

Interlibrary Loan


Phillips Library

347 S. Gladstone Ave.

Aurora, Illinois


Campus Map