Skip to main content

ENVS 101: Case Studies in Environmental Issues (HC)

Environmental Studies 101: Case Studies in Environmental Issues (Smith and Wilson) Fall 2016

Research as Process

Research is an iterative process, meaning a cycle rather than a straight line.

You begin with brainstorming, move on to exploring background or foundational texts, refine your question/topic, delve into more targeted research, consider, ponder, take notes, notice gaps, and do more research.

This is one reason why it's a good idea to start the process early. Hopefully, you enjoy your topic and find it interesting to follow new lines of inquiry before you synthesize and write.

Mind Mapping

When you're just starting to explore your topic, one strategy you can use is called mind mapping. There are several variations of this technique, from concept bubbles to complex maps covered with arrows.

Here's a simple form you can use to brainstorm the big concepts and important questions you're interested in, as well as take notes on relevant search terms and keep track of your citations.

Download and print the mind map if you'd like to use it to explore and refine your topic.

Brainstorm Search Words


How does dairy farming impact the environment?

Step 1: Break up this research question into two or three main concepts.

  • Concept #1: dairy
  • Concept #2: impact
  • Concept #3: environment

Step 2: Brainstorm synonyms, acronyms, and variant spellings.

  • Concept #1: dairy, milk
  • Concept #2: impact, damage
  • Concept #3: environment*

Understand Boolean Operators

  • Even if the search engine you are using doesn't require you to enter boolean operators, it is still using them behind the scenes. It will help you to know the logic behind your search
  • AND gives you results that include ALL of your concepts.
  • OR gives you results that include ANY of your concepts.
  • Essentially, you are searching:​

(dairy OR milk) AND (impact OR damage) AND (environment OR environmental)



Subject Searching

Subject searching can be used as an alternative to, or in combination with, keyword searching. Subject Headings allow you to find relevant material grouped together, including titles that do not use the keywords you may have been using to search.


Finding subject headings
Look at a book record in Tripod, check the subjects assigned to it, and choose whatever ones are relevant for your research.


The subject headings assigned to the book are "Dairy processing", "Milk", and "Dairy products". By clicking on the link for "Dairy processing", we see that there are 10 books in the TriCo about dairy processing.


Refining subject searches

You can combine different concepts into a single subject search for precision.  The results are more focused than a keyword search.

But all the words have to be terminology used in library subject cataloging.

To ensure this, you can use subject headings you have already found.  Another option is to browse in the subject headings for more choices.                   


Combine the subject heading "dairy processing" with the keyword "vermont".