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Research Guides

CHM499: Introduction to Chemistry Research

The resources in this guide will help you through the CHM499 research process from start to finish.

Searching for Articles

Building a structured search strategy with keywords and synonyms can help make your article searches more effective and efficient! Start your search and refine your results by following the steps below.

Step 1: Identify keywords

Before starting your search, it can be helpful to spend some time defining your topic and brainstorming potential search terms. To get started:

  1. Define your topic. See if you can summarize it in one sentence or phrase!
    • Example topic: How can forest management for carbon sequestration mitigate climate change?
  2. Break down your topic into its major components or concepts. It can be helpful to cross out generic and "filler" words in your topic summary to identify your key concepts.
    • How can forest management for carbon sequestration help mitigate climate change?
  3. Brainstorm a list of synonyms and related terms you can use to search for each concept.
Forest Carbon Sequestration Climate Change





carbon sequestration

carbon capture

carbon stocks

climate change

global warming


Tips for brainstorming keywords and synonyms:

  • Draw from any relevant articles you've already found.
  • Use background sources like Wikipedia, encyclopedias, dictionaries and textbooks to learn more about each concept.
  • Consider:
    • Broader and/or more specific terms
    • Alternate word endings (e.g. plurals, tenses)
    • Alternate spellings (e.g. caesium vs. cesium)
    • Acronyms & abbreviations (e.g. MS vs. mass spectrometry, Na vs. sodium)
    • Different phrases and word order
  • Brainstorm with a librarian, instructor, or classmate!  

Step 2: Combine keywords with AND/OR and other search tools

AND/OR (Boolean Operators)

Now that you have a list of keywords, you can use AND/OR (aka Boolean Operators) to combine them in library databases. Using AND/OR tells the database how your search terms relate to one another.

  • AND : Combine search terms for different concepts to find only articles that include both search terms. This will narrow your results.
    • carbon AND forests finds only articles that mention both carbon and forests.
  • OR : Combine search terms for the same concept (synonyms, alternate spellings, etc.) to find articles that include any or all terms. This will broaden your results.
    • carbon OR CO2 retrieves articles that mention either carbon or C02


You can further refine your search by using an asterisk  (*) to search multiple different word endings. This is also known as truncation, and is a great strategy to efficiently search for plurals, tenses and alternate forms of a word all at once!

  • Example: forest* will find forest, forests, forested, forestry, etc.

Be careful when truncating with only a few letters! For example, cat* finds cation, cathode, catalysis, catastrophic, catatonic, category, etc.

Phrase Searching

Use quotations marks (" ") to search for an exact phrase.

  • Example:  "carbon sequestration"

Without quotation marks, most databases will search each word individually and in any order. Phrase searching makes sure the database only finds articles where words appear next to each other, in the exact order you've entered them. This will narrow your search and find fewer, more relevant results.

Search Strings

Keywords, boolean operators, wildcards, and other search tools can all be used together to create search strings.

Use parentheses () to group together search terms and operators, following order of operations.

  • Example: forest* AND ("carbon sequestration" OR "carbon stock") AND ("climate change" OR "global warming")

It's a good idea to keep a record of your search strings to avoid duplication of your searching efforts! Many databases also allow you to save your searches.

Step 3: Review and refine your results

SciFinder, Reaxys, and Web of Science all provide search filters that can be used to refine your initial search results.

Use these filters to customize your results and identify the articles most relevant to your topic: 

  • Publication Year: Select the date range most relevant to your search (e.g., are you looking for older foundational studies, or more recent research?) 
  • Document Type: Select the document type most relevant to you (e.g., patent, article, review, etc.). It can be helpful to filter for Review Articles if you are new to a topic and want to get a broad overview. These can also point you to additional relevant studies through citation tracking.
  • Subject: Use the database identified subject classifications to narrow your results (e.g., Reayxs Index Terms, Web of Science Categories)
  • Authors: Look for more work or related research published by the same authors 

Each database has multiple  filters to choose from (e.g., patent office, language, reaction class, substance role, etc.).  Play around with the different options to see how they improve your search results!

Step 4: Find related studies with citation tracking

Once you've found a relevant paper, you can use citation tracking to quickly locate related studies!

  • Forward Citation Tracking: Find the papers that have cited an article (What novel studies have since cited this paper, or have built upon this research?)
  • Backward Citation Tracking: Find the papers that an article has cited in their reference list (What studies did this paper draw on, or what foundational research was it influenced by?)

Web of Science has the most powerful citation tool, tracking articles back to the early 1900s. Citation tracking is possible in several other databases though, including SciFinder-n, Scopus, and Google Scholar. 

See below for instructions on how to use citation tracking tools in Web of Science and SciFinder-n.

Web of Science

Find and select an article in Web of Science to access the Citation Network data. Select the numbers within the Citation Network section to see a full list of the articles in Web of Science that have cited ("Citations") and are cited by ("Cited References") the article.

A screenshot of an article screen within Web of Science. The Citation Network section on the upper right-hand side of the screen is highlighted.



Select an article in SciFinder-n to access the citation data. Select the "Citing" button to see a full list of papers that have cited this article (forward tracking). Scroll to the bottom of the page and expand the "Cited Documents" section or select the "View Cited Documents" button to see a list of papers available in SciFinder that are cited in the article (backward tracking).

A screenshot of an article screen within SciFinder-n. The "citing" button in the upper menu directly below the article title is highlighted. The "view cited documents" button in the "Cited Documents" section at the bottom of the screen is highlighted.