Searching as a Strategic Exploration

The Association of Colleges and Research Libraries has wisely suggested that you apply strategy to your search for information. This is not surprising because without a strategy, a game plan, searching for information can feel aimless.

Strategy foregrounds the importance of conscious consideration of a number of concepts, such as Scope, Rhetoric & Context; Serendipity & Flexibility; and Knowledge of Different Search Tools and Search Techniques. Strategy is about being nimble and smart rather than worn down to the bone.

And strategly also relies on self-reflection.

  • Scope, Rhetoric & Context: The value of information, how it is used, is deeply rhetorical. When first examining your rhetorical context, analyze whether your readers are receptive to personal observation. Alternatively, do they expect textual research or experimental study?Thus, it’s essential that you evaluate what your readers know about your topic. What types of information would your audience find persuasive? How contentious or emotional is the topic? How much time do you have?
  • Serendipity & Flexibility: Be open to exploring information resources you may be unfamiliar with, such as subject-specific databases, discussions with experts, or just browsing and tracing footnotes from article to article.
  • Knowledge of Different Search Tools and Search Techniques. Are you cognizant of the limitations of a Google Scholar Search vs. a search on Web of Science or JSTOR? Do you know the difference between the Open Web, the Deep Web, and the TOR Network?

Some people erroneously believe that most important articles and books are available via Google or Google Scholar. And it is certainly true that tools such as Google Scholar provide unprecedented access to information.

Visit for an interactive version of this infographic.

However, to access quality resources such as peer-reviewed journals or ebooks, you need to pay for that access (or be fortunate enough to attend institutions that pay the fees to database vendors like Elsevier, Web of Science, JSTOR, Humanities Full Text). Information isn’t always free (although Writing Commons is!).

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