Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Winthrop University

ENVS 520: Senior Seminar in the Environment: Research Strategies

researching water issues

dissect your environmental sciences topic, break it down into search terms:

Example – Suppose your topic relates to water:
The entire modern economic system is based on abundant and readily available clean freshwater. Human survival depends upon readily available safe drinking water; freshwater-based industries depend on stable water levels, and many of the world's river-borne transport routes share the freshwater industries' reliance on stable water levels.

Yet while water appears abundant to the casual observer, many climatic and human influences disrupt water quality and supply. Some of the effects on water include: reservoir evaporation, falling lake levels (and shrinking lake boundaries) due to damming and other diversions of the rivers feeding the lakes, loss of wetlands to engineering projects (swamp drainage, "claiming" marshlands for expansion of neighborhoods and business districts), soil nutrient depletion (resulting from stemming natural seasonal river delta flooding) which brings reduced plant life and in turn leads to receding shorelines, increasing salt content in coastal estuarine waters, and environmental contamination.

Such changes to water affect every area of life: public health, ecosystem health, agriculture and crop success (or failure), and economic health. Vantage points include politics, economics, social justice issues, ecosystem issues, legal actions, and more.

How to dissect this topic and break it down into pieces for book/database searches:

I. Examine your research idea -- What is your topic about?

    • Agriculture (incl. food security, farming methods & their impacts) –> Science databases
    • Climatology –> Science databases
    • Ecology –> Science databases
    • Economic systems and impacts –> Business databases
    • Food security -> Science databases (nutrition, agriculture, biology/ecology, medicine); Business (economics, managing food supplies).
    • Policy (beware of partisan political opinion writings) –> Mix of topics (general, legal, social, philosophical) -> policy overlaps with managing the issue (such as food / water supplies), economics, and scientific understanding.
    • Legal issues, litigation -> Lexis-Nexis
    • Psychological issues -> trauma suffered by people displaced by natural and man-made environmental disasters, mental health -> PsychInfo, Medline
    • Renewable energy –> Science databases, Business databases, Mix of topics
    • Toxicology and public health (incl. emissions & air pollution / atmospheric impact, soil & water contamination, environmental diseases and public health/medicine) –> Science and medicine databases
  • Tip – finding articles: for very complex topics, it is best to start by breaking down the topic into distinguishable knowledge areas, then searching specialized databases for each aspect. This way, you get at the many sides of a multifaceted topic in a manageable way.
  • Tip – finding books, videos etc: All library-owned items are quickly found in the one QuickSearch search line on the library’s home page (
  • Key to meaningful database & library book/video searches: targeted search terms – use words specific enough to home in on the desired aspect.

For more about search terms --> "Search Strategies" tab

For more about library resources, see the other tabs.