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NWACC Library

Service Learning

Library resources to support NWACC service learning projects.

What's a Search Plan?

Use a Search Plan to approach your research strategically.

A search plan has three parts that work together to help you find your sources.

search plan hierarchy with tools, strategies, and you underneath it

Where will you look for information?

Search tools may be open web, like Google, or "deep web" or "hidden web", like Library databases.

Some standard search tools for any topic or subject include:

How will you look for information? What techniques or hacks will you use in the tools you choose?

Explore these helpful strategies.

Keywords down arrow

The words you choose matter; select search terms with care. Avoid putting your search in the form of a question.

"Exact phrase" down arrow

Put 2 or more words inside quotation marks to turn them into a single word; so "black cat" looks for results with these 2 words as a phrase. Without the quotation marks, the tool will look for the words black and cat anywhere in the results.

Suggestions down arrow

Search tools usually make suggestions for keywords and search terms as you type in the search box - Use them!

3 Magic Words down arrow

  • AND - combine keywords or search terms (eagles AND bears); results must have both words
  • OR - include alternatives for keywords or search terms (eagles OR bears); results will have one word or the other, maybe both
  • NOT - eliminates keywords or search terms (eagles NOT bears); results will exclude results that contain the keyword after NOT

Filters or Limiters down arrow

Overwhelmed by search results? Limit by picking filters such as date or source type (academic journal, ebook, etc.).

What will you do as you search and start finding results?

You need to be:

  • Flexible - Be willing to change directions based on what you find, or don't find. This could mean changing your strategies, your search terms, and possibly your working thesis or even your topic.

  • Persistent - Try, and then try again. Maybe switch up your strategies or change your search tool. Consider your keywords or search terms - remember, the words you choose matter and they can make or break a search.

  • Willing to Ask for HELP - Freshman and sophomores in college aren't expected to know how to do college-level research. You are beginners who are learning quickly. Know when to ask for help. The Library and your instructor are great resources. Use them!


Databases, or research databases, is the term librarians use for their search tools.

These tools:

purple locked safe icon contain what is considered to be valuable content you might otherwise have to pay to use; 

red padlock icon require you to log on to access them, or be on campus; and

blue barbell can be challenging or confusing to use.

Libraries can have so many search tools (databases), it can be hard to know where to start. Try some of of these Librarian Favorites.

Power Search Tools

Use these to find all types of source, including research starters (explainers), scholarly/academic sources and popular sources, such as news, magazines, books, and more.

Scholarly / Academic Sources

Books and book chapters published by university presses are often overlooked scholarly sources. Try searching the ebook collections for more.

Librarian Favorite: Oxford University Press publishes scholarly topic explainers in their series, A Very Short Introduction. 

Most people think of journal articles when they look for scholarly sources. To find these, use any Power Search Tool, or try one of these specialty tools.

Power Search Tools:

Need help using scholarly sources? Try these explainers.

Sociology Topics

Health & Medical Topics

Psychology Topics


Library Search Tools A-Z

Complete list of all available library search tools and research databases.

Google Scholar

caution symbol of a white exclamation point inside a black triangle You may be blocked by paywalls when using Google Scholar. caution symbol of a white exclamation point inside a black triangle 
Contact the library for help getting the article at no cost to you.