Step 1: What is your topic? Briefly state your topic in a sentence or two.
Step 2: What kind of information sources do you need? Think in terms of type (scholarly articles, background information, magazine articles, newspaper articles, statistics or other facts/data, etc.) and in terms of quality (authority, currency, accuracy, reliability, etc.). Think also about quantity: how much information do you need (lots of articles? A few books?).
Step 3: What kind of information tools can you use to find the kinds of information sources you need? Which tool is the most appropriate tool for your specific information needs? For example, do you need a database that finds articles in specific subject areas, or would a more general, multi-disciplinary database be appropriate?
Step 4: Once you've decided on the type of sources you want and the tools you have to locate them, you need to formulate your search query. Databases do not speak the same language we do, so you have to take your topic, boil it down to its bare bones, and then use those keywords to conduct your search. The first step of this is brainstorm a list of words and concepts associated with your topic. Jot down a list of words to use for a search later.
Step 5: Then, using the words you just listed, choose a keyword to begin your search. If you want to combine keywords, choose more than one keyword and put those words together in a phrase using the word AND to connect them. This is your search query or search phrase. Formulate a few search queries and write them down.
Example of a weak search query: teenagers being violent in schools
Example of a better search query: teenagers and school violence