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Emergency and Crisis Management (ECM) Resource Guide

Resources, tools, and research tips for students in the ECM program at UNLV!

Your Topic

Choosing Your Topic

When choosing a topic make sure the question you are addressing is broad enough that it can be answered with available materials, but narrow enough that you won't be overwhelmed by too much information

It can be helpful to address the following questions when developing your topic:

  • Why?- Why is this topic important? Why are you interested in researching this topic?
  • When?- Is there a certain time frame when this topic became important or experienced change? Do you want to research the current or historical view of this topic?
  • Who?- What groups or individual people were involved? Who does this topic affect?
  • How?- What is the relationship between the different aspects of this topic? How does this topic affect you and others?
  • Where?- Does this topic fit into a local, regional, or global scheme? Is there a particular physical environment for this topic?

Using Keywords for Searching

The Library Quick Search and databases allow you to search for your topic using keywords. However, unlike some online search engines, they require you to set up your search in a specific way. These tips will help you create effective search strategies:

  • Avoid entering sentences or questions into the search box
  • Pick out only the main keywords from your topic to enter into the search box
  • Unlike search engines which allow you to just put all your search terms on one line, databases use Boolean searching (and , or, and not) to connect your key words together:
    1. AND – will combine two separate concepts (crisis AND leadership).  It narrows your search because both terms have to appear in the article you are searching for.
    2. OR –searches for two words that mean basically the same thing (crisis OR emergency).  This will make your search broader.
    3. NOT- This will make your search smaller.  Use it when you are searching for a word that can mean two very different things (China = country, china = dishes).  China NOT plates will remove any articles that refer to plates.  “Not” helps to get rid of the articles that don’t have anything to do with your topic.
    4. You can use "quotations marks" or (parenthesis) to keep phrases together.
  • Remember that books will be broader so try and think of the broad aspects of your topic to enter as keywords.
  • Articles will be more narrowly focused so enter keywords that are more specific when searching databases.
  • Think of more than one way to say something and remember to use the jargon specific to your discipline. People use different terms to call things and if you aren't using the same words as most people in your field, your searches will not find the majority of articles on your subject.

The next section of the module will show you examples of how to set up your search.

Sample Searches

First decide what topic you will be writing about.

  • Example Topic 1: Compare emergency management policies in public versus private organizations.
  • Example Topic 2: Investigate emergency management communication strategies used by the hospitality industry.

Think about the main keywords that represent the most important concepts that are included in your topic statement.

  • Main Keywords Topic 1: emergency management, public organizations, private sector
  • Main Keywords Topic 2:emergency management, communication, hospitality industry

Next think about other words similar to your keywords. There is no perfect search. Be prepared to try different combinations of words to find the most appropriate articles and books for your research.

  • More Keywords Topic 1: emergency management, disaster planning, disaster preparedness, crisis management, private sector, public sector, government, private organizations, government
  • More Keywords Topic 2: emergency management, disaster preparedness, communication, crisis communication, crisis management, hospitality industry, hotel, tourism

After you have keywords combine them with Boolean expressions (AND, OR, NOT) to create your searches. The Boolean connectors are bolded in the examples below.

  • Sample Searches Topic 1:
    • "emergency management" and "private organizations"
    • "disaster planning" and "public sector"
    • ("disaster planning" or disaster preparedness) and ("public sector" or government)
  • Sample Searches Topic 2:
    • "emergency management communication" and "hospitality industry"
    • "crisis communication" and "tourism"
    • ("disaster communication" or "emergency management communication") and ("hospitality") or ("hotel")

Other tips:

  • “Words in quotes” will be searched as phrases
  • Words in (parenthesis) will change the order of the search – think algebra!
  • Truncation symbols can help you search for multiple forms of words. Leader* (* will search for all forms of that stem word- leader, leaders, leadership, etc. The symbol varies in different databases (* $ ! ?), use the help section to find which symbol used)
  • Check your spelling- a misspelled word can lead to no results.

A Search Strategy Box can be helpful to organize your keywords.

Place your concepts in the search strategy box. Main keywords/phrases go across (AND), synonyms go down (OR).

risk communication


public organizations


private sector




crisis communication


public sector


private organizations




crisis management





After you have the grid filled out you can use these terms and combinations to create your searches. Use AND, OR, and NOT (Boolean searching) to connect your search terms.

If you aren’t getting good results change your search strategy or your keywords.

Expect to run your search more than once to get the best results.

Breaking up concepts can also help you with your search. You may not find an article with information on conflict resolution in both the private sector and in public organizations, but you might find several articles on conflict resolution in either public organizations or the private sector. Once you have these articles on the two different aspects of conflict resolution, you can combine the information together in your own research.

Still stumped?

Finding one good article can lead you to others. Check out the bibliography or works cited page to see what else has been written on the topic.

Ask your professor or your librarian for other search terms that might lead you to better information.

If you keep putting in "risk communication", you will keep get articles about that term. By switching to the term "risk evaluation", you will find a whole new set of books or articles. Don't get stuck using just one search term.

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