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POLS 480 (Kirsch)

POLS 480 (Kirsch)

Search Strategies

Pre Research and Keywords

It's worth spend a little time doing "pre-research" to find the keywords, vocabulary, who, what, when, where, and how of your topic.

This will save you time in the long run. If you're using the wrong search terms you won't find what you need.

Wikipedia and other basic websites or encyclopedias are a great way to find enough information about your topic to do a good search. You can use Wikipedia at the beginning of your research process, just not at the end.

What are the keywords you would use to describe this image?

Immigrants standing on deck of a ship.

New York - Welcome to the Land of Freedom. Digital image. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2017. <>. Illus. in: Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper, 1887 July 2, pp. 324-325.

Tips on Searching Keywords

Start with 2-3 important words relating to your topic. If you start with too many, it may limit your search too much and you may miss resources that would be perfect for your paper.

Add on extra words to narrow down your results. More words = fewer results.

Use "quotation marks" to search for a phrase, i.e. find those words in that order. "Time management" or "distracted driving" are good examples. This will usually narrow your search.

Use the Asterisk *

Use the Asterisk 2 ways:

Wildcard - use the * in the middle of the word to replace one letter.

E.g. wom*n will find woman and women.

Truncation - use the * at the end of words to bring up words with the same root that have different endings (suffixes).

E.g. nurs* will find nurse, nursing, nurses, nursed, nursery, and any other words that start with nurs

If it's a really common root, it may find too many items. E.g. philo* will find everything from philosophy to philodendron.

And, Or, Not? How do these work?

AND, OR, and NOT are Boolean Operators.

Boolean Operators????

You don't have to remember the phrase "Boolean Operators", but if you know how AND, OR, and NOT work, you'll be a better searcher, and save yourself time and frustration when you can't find what you're looking for. You may notice them if you dig around and find the advanced search in the databases.

Search Tip: Don't worry about CAPITALIZING your boolean operators. Lower case is fine. I've capitalized them here to make them more visible.

AND will always narrow your search. The more terms you add, the fewer results you'll see.

Search Tip: Don't worry about typing AND between your search terms, the databases are adding it to your search automatically. Just type in your search terms.

OR will always expand your search. Only use OR to find synonyms or similar concepts.

Surround your OR grouping with (parentheses).

  • (child or toddler or infant)
  • (california or arizona or nevada)
  • (chocolate or peanut butter)

NOT will exclude items from your search.

Add it to the end of your search to eliminate a search term you weren't expecting to see in your results.

  • apple NOT computer
  • monarch* NOT butterfly