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Research Guides

ENG485F Ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities

Discover library sources and services to support your coursework.

Begin with a question

Searching the literature is a scholarly activity that can lead you to too many, too few, or just the right amount of sources. 

One way to improve your results is by:

  1. Beginning with a research question
  2. Selecting your key search terms from that question
  3. And evaluating how well the sources you find answer that question

For example, consider the research question:

What can be learned about the history of Toronto by examining its natural environment? 

Within this question are words that you can use to begin building an effective search. Which words in this research question would you pick to communicate your research topic to a scholarly database? 

Test the words you selected using U of T's scholarly LibrarySearch platform. 

Search using the key terms history, Toronto, and natural environment

In the image above, a search is conducted using the key words "history," "Toronto", and "natural environment." 

This search generates more than 140,000 results making it very difficult to locate the sources that you may want to use. By evaluating your search results in this way, you can determine that your research question is too broad and may need to be revised.

Consider revising your research question

If you find your key terms are generating too many results, you may want to consider revising your research question to address a more specific subject. 

For instance, a broad question can be made more narrow: 

What can be learned about the history of Toronto by examining its natural environment? 

could be revised as

What can be learned about the history of Toronto by examining records of the Don River ecosystem? 

And from a more narrow question, you can build a search that returns fewer results that are more relevant:

Search using the key terms history, Toronto, and Don River ecosystem

The pictured search for the key terms "History," "Toronto," and "Don River ecosystem" generates just over 1,000 results

Refine Results using Filters

Your initial set of results will be automatically sorted by relevance. 

LibrarySearch relevance ranking is determined by: 

  • Frequency of keywords matched in the record
  • Hierarchy of keywords in the record
  • Proximity of keywords to one another 
  • Keywords matched in author, title, subject, or date field

You may want to change this default setting to sort in other ways. Alternative sort options include Date-newest, Date-oldest, Title, or Author. Each of these options are available through the Sort By dropdown menu highlighted in the following image. 

Alternative sort options.

Choosing a Filter

Choose any filter option from the left side menu to narrow your search results. 

Results page with location of filters highlighted.

Applying selected filters

Once you have selected one or more filters, you must click the Apply Filters button highlighted in the following image before the list will be updated with your search preferences. You may need to scroll down to the bottom of the filter section to locate the Apply Filters button. 

Search results page highlighting the bottom left location of the Apply Filters button.