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Winthrop University

Pros and Cons Research: Create a Search Strategy

Finding articles that are "pro" and "con" for a controversial topic or issue can be tricky, particularly if you need to find scholarly, academic articles that provide a measured, research-driven point of view.  Use the tips on this page to help you create a search that is more likely to find the kinds of articles you need for a research paper on controversial topics.

Additional details and information on writing a research paper can be found on the Basic Research and Writing Guide

Pro and Con Words

If you are having trouble finding an academic article on your topic, and you've been using the words pro or con in your searches, try other words that are similar to "pro and con" in meaning. Authors of academic articles often use less-charged language to describe and present their topics. 

Instead of pro and con, try words like:

  • Debate
  • Issues
  • Challenges
  • Controversy

Words Describing Your Topic / Keywords

In addition to finding words other than pro and con to get to the issues surrounding a controversial topic, you may want to consider the words used to describe your topic.

Tip: The same concept will be described/named differently by those who are pro and those who are con. Can you think of words that describe your topic in a positive (pro/for) way, a negative (con/anti) way, and a neutral way? 

Tip: Try finding articles using different keywords describing your topic.

Search Strategies

After you've identified a few words to describe your topic, you're ready to start searching. Here are 5 tips for helping you find the articles you need for your research paper:

#1: Use library databases.

Library databases give you access to scholarly articles (aka academic or peer-reviewed articles). This guide gives you a small selection of databases to get you started, but there are many more to choose from!

#2: Use advanced searching when possible.

Library databases often include an advanced search feature. This feature lets you more easily create focused searches with multiple search boxes. Just be sure have one concept per search box!

#3: Use AND to get fewer results.

Are you getting hundreds or thousands of results? With one search box (often in a basic search) use the word AND to combine two or more different terms: 

gun control AND issues

immigration AND economy

If you're using advanced search with multiple boxes, put one term/concept in per box. The database will use AND automatically.

#4: Use OR to get more results.

Not getting many articles? You might want to consider using OR. This word tells the database that either word is fine - just make sure that the words are similar, as in:

challenges OR issues 

children OR kids

#5: Ask a librarian for help!

We know that searching can get complicated, even frustrating. Dacus Library faculty are search experts and we will help you create better, more focused searches. In addition to personalized book-a-librarian appointments, you can use any of our drop in services (chat, email, reference desk, phone) for those quick questions.