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PALM 401: Palmetto Senior Capstone, Fall 2021 (Prof. Jones)

This guide is intended to help students in PALM 401 (Prof. Jones) conduct library research for course related projects.

Finding Background Information

Use these sources to gain familiarity with your topic, narrow your research question, provide context, and identify experts.

Narrowing Your Topic & Developing Keywords

Narrowing Down Your Topic

Your topic needs to be local, but you also need sources for your paper.  It is tempting to think that you need a very broad topic in order to find sources, but you have access to millions of books, journals articles, and more at your finger tips.  To make your research paper coherent and your searching easier, try to craft a focused topic.  Instead of looking for any items on, say, autism, think of the different ways you could approach the topic.  You can ask questions to help get more specific, like:

  • Who?  Do I want to focus on a specific population?
  • Where? Do I want to focus on a specific place (city, state, county)?
  • When? Do I want a historical focus or a current focus?
You can also think about the different ways your subject areas might approach the problem.  How would Social Work approach autism and how is that different from how Psychology might approach autism?  How would Education consider this topic?  Or Public Health?

Key Concepts

Once you have a topic that is focused, you will want to focus in on the most important words and concepts.  For example, my topic is:

Steroid use among professional baseball players.

The key words or concepts here could be:

  • Steriods
  • Professional Baseball 
  • Players


Once you have identified your key concepts, it's time to brainstorm.  What are synonyms or alternate ways of stating my key concepts?  For example, instead of players I might use the word athletes.  Can you think of other ways I could say Professional Baseball?

Also, brainstorm broader and narrower topics that are related to your search.  For example, I could search for Androstanediol, a specific type of steroid to narrow my search.  Or I could broaden my search to include all baseball players, not just professional ones.

Search Tools

Boolean Operators

These are words that connect your key words or concepts to help make your searches more effective.

  • AND - both terms must be present (Ex: students AND plagiarism

  • OR - either term may be present (Ex: college OR university

  • AND NOT - first term must be present, second term must not (Ex: cheating AND NOT sports


These are special characters you can add to words to enhance your search

  • * - replaces multiple characters (Ex: ethic* will search for ethic, ethics, ethical . . .)

  • ? - replaces on character (Ex: wom?n will search for woman and women)

Phrase Searching

Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase

  • Ex: "South Carolina" will return only results with that exact order, while South AND Carolina would return "North Carolina is south of Virginia"