OSU Navigation Bar

The Ohio State University

OSU Libraries

net.TUTOR: Searching 101

Searching 101 > 1: Prepare Before You Search

"Only librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find."     Roy Tennant [librarian]
In this tutorial, you will learn how to find what you need in the expanding world of online resources. These resources include:

Online research tools
  • Library catalogs
    At Ohio State University, the online catalog is called OSCAR and the statewide online catalog is OhioLINK. Use the catalog to locate resources provided by your library (books, journals, etc.).

  • Reference databases
    These include encyclopedias, periodical indexes, and full-text resources which the library licenses from publishers for your use. Use these databases to identify (and read) articles on a variety of topics.

  • Internet resources
    These are Web search tools that are available to everyone.

Because these resources are created by different organizations, they don't all look or function in the same way. The good news is that there are key searching skills that can be used in all of these online resources to help you connect quickly to the information you need. This tutorial describes five steps for successful searching.

1A: Identify Key Concepts

The key to successful searching is good preparation. There are two parts to this first step. First, before starting to search, take just a moment to analyze your search topic. Write a sentence describing what you are looking for. Then identify:

  1. Main concepts (Hint: these are usually nouns rather than verbs, adverbs or adjectives)

    In our illustration, the key concepts are substance abuse and treatment.

  2. Aspects of the topic (such as time, place) that will be useful for focusing your research.

    In our illustration, some aspects are recent and U.S.

Illustration of topic analysis

1B: Identify Possible Search Terms

Next, make a list of words you can use to express each of your main concepts. As you do this, consider:

  1. Narrower or broader terms

    Example: Shown in the table below.

    Broad term:substance abuse

  2. Synonyms

    Example: Some synonyms for drug are dope, narcotic, opiate.

If you can't think of additional search words:


Practice identifying key concepts for searching. Try one of these:

[Site opens in new window.]

Pop Quiz

Identify the key concepts in this search statement: easy recipes for pizza

Correct answer: [NOTE: Score is not recorded]

Top | Next

net.TUTOR © 1997-2008, The Ohio State University Libraries