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IB Student Research Guide

For Bentonville High School's International Baccalaureate® Students

Ask a Research Question

Determine What Information You Need: What is Your Research Question?

Think of all the questions you might ask to understand your subject. Consider questions that require you to think critically about the topic, or about a specific element or certain angle on your topic. Try filling in this prompt:

I'm studying __________ to investigate __________ in order to understand __________.

Exact Phrase Searching

Add Quotation Marks to search for an exact phrase or words in a specific or EXACT order. An exact phrase will return more accurate results.

For an example, search: separation anxiety vs. “separation anxiety”.

Discover 3 Magic Words

There are 3 Magic Words, called Boolean terms (sometimes called Boolean operators, or command terms), you can use to connect or disconnect keywords.

Using the 3 Magic Words singly or in combination creates a more precise and powerful search, with a higher percentage of relevant results.

This logic works in Google, as well as library search tools.

Venn diagram of Boolean operators


Nest Your Search Terms

Place certain terms in parentheses to “nest” them or combine them when searching. This allows for a high level of specificity in your search.

It works just like basic math when (1 + 4) - 3 =  5 - 3 = 2. The words inside the parenthesis are searched first and are then followed by the rest of your search terms.

(health care OR medical care) AND culture

(premature OR preterm) infant

Get Wild, Truncate!

Truncation lets you search for a term and variant spellings of that term. 

Use an asterisk [ * ] or a question mark [ ? ] at the end of a root word to get results from any form of the root word. This is called "truncation" or "stemming."

These same symbols used in the middle of a word are called “wild cards.” Using [ ? ] will substitute only one letter. Using [ * ] will substitute an unlimited number of letters.

Teen*: will find teen, teens, teenage, teenager, teenagers, etc.

Kar?n: will find Karen, Karin, Karyn, Karon, Karum, Karan, etc.

Kar*n: will find Karen, Karin, Karyn, Karmen, Karsavin, Kardashian, etc.

Keyword Search Strategies

For best results, break your topic or research question into keywords.

  • Save the words that represent the main concepts of your topic. 
  • Delete pronouns, definite and indefinite articles, prepositions, and vague or non-descriptive words.


  • Research question: What motivates adult learners taking online courses?
  • KeywordsWhat motivates adult learners taking online courses?
  • Words like "what" and "taking" do not relate to the core concepts of the research question and are not effective keywords.
  • Brainstorm alternative keywords that an author might have used. This includes different word forms: 
motivates adult learners online courses
motivation adult student online education
motivating continuing education student distance education
motivat*   web-based course

Finding Few or No Results?

Don't panic. This is normal.

Research is not a linear process and it is likely that you will need to perform multiple searches before you find good results on your topic.

First, try different keywords. Don't be afraid to broaden your topic and search for synonyms of your keywords. If your search returned some results, look at those results to aid in brainstorming.

Additionally, you may want to try your search in a different database. Oftentimes, topics can span multiple subject areas.

You can always Ask Us! for help!

Search Hacks Guide