The library's databases are best searched using keywords rather than long sentences or phrases. It is common to use full sentences or lengthy phrases while using a search engine like Google. It is important to note that library databases are not Google, 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:
Title and creator: If you are a researching a particular artifact, use the artifact’s name and the creator’s name as keywords.
Identify main concepts about your artifact and theme, both specifically and generally. For example, if you are analyzing Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” and your theme is life’s journey, some concepts and keywords might be: journey, choice, exploration, risk, decisions, etc.
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. Here are some tips to help you combine your keywords and create effective searches.
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, like the title of an artifact or a creator's name. If the creator is Robert Frost, search for the phrase like this: "Robert Frost" 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.
Using the keywords that were brainstormed above, here are some examples of what a good search strategy would look like:
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 research in the Humanities.