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History 231 - Modern Europe Civilization I, 1300 - 1815 (Smith): Getting Started with Research

On This Page You Will Learn to...

Use this guide to help you get started with your research for a class project or paper.  Contact the HonCC Library ( or (808) 845-9199) if you need help at any point during this process.

Step 1: Selecting a Topic

Tips for Selecting Your Topic:

  • Choose something that interests you.
  • Talk to your instructor, classmates, the writing center, or librarians for ideas.
  • Look through your textbook, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, or watch TV.
  • Look through the library's online resources listed below. (You will be asked to log in with your UH Username and password if you are not on campus.)

Step 2: Narrowing a Topic

Once you select a topic, you will need to narrow it down.  In other words, be more specific.  Students often try to write papers or do projects on topics that are far too big to cover in 5 pages.

The problem that students often face is that they don't know enough about their topic to narrow it down.  The library can help.  Use Credo Reference to learn more about your topic and find aspects of it that you want to do more research about.

Credo Reference covers every major subject.

ONLINE access to over 600 full-text reference books such as encyclopedias, atlases, dictionaries, biographies and more from the world's best publishers.

For a quick demo on how to use Credo Reference, watch the video in the section below.


If you used one of the library resources from the list in Step 1, you can read about your topic there as well as in Credo Reference.

Here are some examples of topics that need to be narrowed down:

  • Black Death
  • Global Warming
  • Homelessness

In this step, it might be easier to create a chart to write down words and phrases that will help you narrow the topic.


Topic: Black Death Topic: Global Warming Topic: Homelessness

Other Names:

  • Plague
  • Bubonic Plague
  • Great Pestilence
  • Great Mortality
  • Universal Plague

Other Names:

  • Climate Change




Other Names:

  • Homeless




Narrower Topics:

  • Plague doctors in Itlay
  • Spread or epidemiology of the plague
  • Genocide of the Jewish people in Europe during the plague
  • Decline of the Catholic Church during the plague
  • Plague in Constantinople


Narrower Topics:

  • Spread of infectious diseases like Malaria
  • Coastal erosion
  • Endangered animals like polar bears
  • Effect on food production
  • Effect on global economy

Narrower Topics:

  • Effect of being homeless on adolescents or teenagers
  • Effect of being homless on children
  • Access to health care
  • Mental health issues
  • Gambling as a contributor to homlessness
  • Homelessness in Hawaii

Step 3: Creating Keywords

After narrowing your topic, you need to create keywords. Keywords are words or phrases that will help you be specific when you search the library's resources (books, articles, images, videos, etc.).

Finding the best keywords or combinations of keywords is going to help you find the most relevant sources for your topic. Keywords are not sentences, but they can be a phrase.  For example "freedom of speech" or "origins of life."

Keywords do not include words or phrases such as: and, the, of, in, to, effect on, etc.  You only need the main words from your idea.

Examples of possible Keywords from the topics in Step 2:

Topic: Black Death Topic: Global Warming Topic: Homelessness
  • black death
  • plague
  • bubonic plague
  • great pestilence
  • great mortality
  • universal plague
  • doctors
  • italy
  • epidemiology
  • genocide
  • jewish
  • europe
  • catholic church
  • constantinople

  • global warming
  • climate change
  • infectious disease
  • malaria
  • coastal erosion
  • endangered animals
  • polar bears
  • food production
  • global economy




  • homelessness
  • homeless
  • adolescents
  • teenagers
  • children
  • health care
  • mental health
  • gambling
  • hawaii





You do not need to capitalize keywords when you search in the library's resources.

Step 4: Constructing a Search Strategy

Once you have your keywords, you can create your search strategy.  A search strategy is the combination of keywords that you use to search for sources in the library's resources.  This combination of words will help you be specific while searching for information on your topic.

The reason why you needed to find other words or phrases for your topic is because sometimes you need them to create better search strategies.  For example, one book may use the phrase "climate change" and another book might use the phrase "global warming."  If you searched for only one of those phrases, you may miss out on a potentially good source.

Examples of search strategies:

  • The spread of the black death
    • black death AND epidemiology
  • Other options:
    • black death OR great pestilence AND epidemiology
    • great pestilence AND epidemiology
  • The effect of global warming on polar bears
    • global warming AND polar bears
  • Other options:
    • climate change AND polar bears
    • global warming OR climate change AND polar bears
  • Mental health issues in relation to homlessness
    • mental health AND homlessness

See the Search Tips box below for an explination of AND and OR, as well as other search tips that can enhance your search stragegy.

Search Tips

  • DO NOT type sentences into search boxes.  Use words or phrases (see examples below)
  • AND, OR, NOT: use to narrow or broaden your search
    • cyber bullying AND suicide (results have all words - narrow)

    • natural disasters NOT hurricanes (results exclude word after NOT - narrow)

    • polar bears OR grizzly bears (results have either concept - broaden)

  • (*): use to broaden your search or find similar forms of words
    • Hawaii* = Hawaii, Hawaiian, Hawaiians
  • “”: use to search for phrases or words you want to appear together in your results
    • “black death” or “global warming”

Subject Guide


Creative Commons License
Library Research: A How to Guide, created Spring 2013 by Sarah Myhre is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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