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COMM 288: Research Help

Subject- and format-specific databases that will be useful for your COMM 288 Recommendation Report assignment.


Need help with primary research or searching for secondary sources? Refer to the guidance below, or book and appointment with a librarian for further assistance. 

Primary Research Planning

1. Think about what you want to know. What is your research question or topic? 

e.g. student stress

2. What kind of data do you need?

  • Qualitative - More in-depth data like quotes, statements, opinions, and feedback. Difficult to collect a large amount, but the quality is more detailed. Normally obtained through interviews, focus groups, or open-ended questions on surveys. 

e.g. quotes from students on how they deal with stress. 

  • Quantitative - Measurable data based on quantities and totals. Can collect a large amount of responses and analyze trends. Normally obtained through surveys with multiple choice questions, sliding scales, rating scales, demographic questions, etc. 

e.g. An Excel table listing students' respective programs, ages, and stress levels from 1-10

  • Both - Your research can involve both qualitative and quantitative data. 

3. Pick a research method(s). Once you know what kind of data would best answer your question, you can choose a research method. 

  • Qualitative - Interviews, Focus Groups, open-ended Survey Questions, Case Study

e.g. Conduct interviews with students and ask them questions about how they deal with stress

  • Quantitative - Survey, Observational, Experiment, 

e.g. Survey students asking for their programs, ages, and to rate their individual stress levels from 1-10

Choosing Search Terms

An important part of searching for sources is using effective search terms. We can use search terms to narrow our search, broaden our search, and find sources relevant to our research topic. 

Below are some tips for you to develop an effective list of search terms for your topics. 

Identify the Main Concepts of your research topic

Your topics probably start out as a few full sentences which detail the problems you are aiming to solve with recommendations. But you don't want to enter these full sentences into the search bar, so what specific words do you choose? You need to identify the main concepts of your research topic. 

  • If your topic is "how can SAIT better support students with high levels of stress" , then the main concepts of your topic are centered on "students" and "stress".
  • You could also consider the word "support" as a main concept after starting with the first two. 


Related Concepts - Are there other words and concepts related to your research topic?

Now that you have the main concepts of your research topic, think of any synonyms or related concepts and ideas. Is there a synonym for "stress"? What concepts are related to "students"? 

  • You can complete the concept mapping activity below to help you find more search terms and expand your search for more results. 

example synonyms and related ideas for topic of stress in sait students

Search Terms - The words you will use to find sources through the Library (or online)

Now that you have written out related concepts for your topic, you should have a better understanding of what words to use as search terms in the library and online. Your search terms can be combined together in different ways to find sources for your topic.


Use the following Search Operators to improve the effectiveness of your online search.

  • AND - find all  the terms (ex.  "pocket microscope" AND performance)

  • OR - find any of the terms (ex. miniature OR USB)

  • NOT - exclude a certain term (ex. camera NOT Nikon)

  • " " - keep specific words together in exact order (ex. "portable microscope")

  • * -  search any ending on a root word (ex. electric* [= electric, electricity, electrical, electrician] 

example of how to use boolean search techniques for specific terms "mental health" students and college or university

Primary Research Help

Evaluating Sources

  • Is it relevant to your topic?
  • Is the author credible? How do you know?
  • Is the publication date current enough?
  •  What type of source is it? Does it contain ads, photos, citations, etc.?
  •  Why was this source created? Is there bias? Is it selling to, entertaining, or informing the audience?
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