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HIS 100 - Perspectives in History

Tulsa Massacre, Wounded Knee Occupation, Stonewall Rebellion, Haitian Independence, Philippine Revolution, Iranian Revolution, The Great London Smog, Creation of Earth Day, Chernobyl, Creation of the UN, Act Prohibiting Slavery, Founding of NATO

Choosing Keywords

The library's databases are best searched using keywords instead of long sentences or phrases. It is common to use full sentences or lengthy phrases while using a search engine like Google, but library databases don't work the same way. They have their own way of searching for information. Using keywords and boolean searching is the start to coming up with successful searching strategies.

Here are a few ways you can brainstorm keywords for your topic:

  • Identify the main concepts about your topic: For example, if your topic is the environmental impact of the atomic bomb, some initial keywords might be: atomic bomb, World War II, environment, environmental impact
  • Think about related and more specific terms: Think about different ways to say the concepts you already identified. Continuing our example, some additional keywords might be: Japan, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, fallout, radiation, soil contamination, water quality, etc.

Feeling stuck? Try using a thesaurus This link opens in a new window to look up synonyms or use a brainstorming strategy like mind mapping to see how the concepts in your topic are related. There's also a great Keyword Generator Tool This link opens in a new window from UT that can help you build a keyword list for searches. Give it a try!

Once you have your keywords identified, it's time to try some searches! You can combine the keywords in various ways to create different searches to use in the library's databases.

Search Tips

Use Boolean Operators such as AND, OR, and NOT. The AND tells the search engine to only bring back results that use both search terms: cats AND dogs. The OR tells the search engine to bring back results that have either search term: cats OR dogs. The NOT will exclude the word or phrase that follows it: cats NOT dogs. Using parentheses can also help, like this: cats AND (dogs OR birds).

Use quotation marks around any important phrases that you want the search engine to find exactly. For example, search for the phrase atomic bomb like this instead: "atomic bomb" so that the search engine will look for the two words next to each other in that exact order, rather than the two individual words separately in the article.

Use an asterisk (*) as a wildcard. The asterisk tells the search engine to find any variation of the word that starts with the same root. For example, if one of your keywords is biology, search for it like this: biolog*. The search engine will look for the words biology, biologic, biological, etc.

If you were researching the dropping of the atomic bombs, here are some examples of what a good search strategy would look like:

  • "atomic bomb" AND "World War II" AND impact
  • "atomic bomb" AND impact AND environment*
  • "atomic bomb" AND ("environmental impact" OR contamination)

Any of these search strategies would be good to try in a library database. In the next few sections of the guide, we will look at some specific databases you can use for history research.