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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

MUS 133: Introduction to World Music

This guide can help you begin research into world music. Especially helpful for students in Music 133.

Developing a Search Strategy

Before you start researching, you should plan out a search strategy. Think about the research question you're trying to answer and brainstorm a list of possible keywords. What terms best describe the information you're looking for? What kind of sources do you need? Taking the time to articulate exactly what kind of information you need before you start looking will help you retrieve more focused, relevant results. To walk through the process of developing a search strategy, check out the example below!

 Infographic explaining the process of developing a search strategy with examples. See Accessible Version below for full text.

Breaking Down the Research Process

Using the steps below to structure your research can help keep you on the right track. Remember as you work that research is a cyclical, iterative process - you may need to reevaluate your search terms multiple times, brainstorming new keywords as you refine your topic.

  1. Write down your topic as a broad sentence or question - framing your topic as a question is a great strategy for directing your search and making sure you've developed a sufficiently complex topic. Your research question shouldn't be something that can be answered with a quick yes or no.
  2. Identify the main words or concepts in your topic - these will be the first terms you try to search with. These main concepts can also help you select appropriate background sources to learn more about your topic; for example, if one of your main concepts is "country music", you might take a look at a popular music encyclopedia to find general background information.
  3. Brainstorm alternative words you can use for each keyword - these should be synonyms or related ideas to the main words or concepts you identified earlier.
  4. Identify library resources to search - try to consult a variety of sources and remember there's a lot out there! You could try Grove Music Online or the Garland Encyclopedia for World Music for background information, a database like Music Index or JSTOR for scholarly journal articles, and a search in the library catalog for recordings, collected essays of criticism, or monographs on your topic!

Quick Tip: Keep track of the search terms you've used and the databases you've tried so you don't repeat unsuccessful searches. Keeping a research journal is a great way to develop your skills and ensure you remember what keywords and strategies worked and which ones didn't.

Hands-on Practice

As you work on planning out your own search strategy, consider making a concept map or mind map to help get your ideas down on paper. We've included a sample concept map (attached below) to give you a place to start as you practice refining your research topic.

Content adapted from the Teaching, Learning and Academic Support page on how to "Develop a Topic and Dissect Your Research Question".