Boil your topic down to the most important words. Ignore superfluous words like in, the, of, with, against, affect, impact. Begin with a keyword search--Select a Field (optional).
Put each "different piece" of your topic in a separate search box, if available. Using the topic of "the ethics of using genetically modified food crops in order to decrease herbicide/pesticide use" as an example below, note how each different piece of the topic is entered on a separate line. Synonyms for the pieces are connected by OR--and kept on the same line--as seen below...
Too many results? Focus your search by searching for your keywords in the ABSTRACT field or the TITLE field. Click on the All - Smart Search to select the abstract or title field.
Too few results? Think of synonyms. Add synonyms to your search--using OR--and keep your synonyms all on the same line.
Increase your results by removing the least important "piece" of your search while still retaining the "essence" of your search (in the case above, it might be the food crops piece).
Still no results? Broaden your search slightly. Can't find specific information on GM/food crops/pesticides? Look for information on GM crops in articles/books, and you'll likely find information on herbicide/pesticide use, too. Still no luck? Try a different journal article database.
When reviewing your results, look for relevant "subject" or "descriptor" words. Find subject terms either on the results page, or at the end of individual records. Write down relevant subject terms that you find.
Go back to the search screen and using the subject terms you discovered, search your subject terms in the subject or descriptor field. Subject terms are gold threads--they will almost always lead you to the most relevant results.
Be sure to take advantage of:
Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT)
Exact phrase searching -- "genetically modified" or "food crops"
Field searches (search within the abstract, title, or subject fields)
When you find an article you want, choose PDF full-text or HTML full-text links. Or...use the link to find full-text.
No full-text? Use the Interlibrary Loan link to receive a copy of the article or book from another library.
Although the topic's unrelated, the search strategies/concepts are extremely useful. Guaranteed to make you laugh and teach you valuable search skills.