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Basic Search Tips

SearchUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: How is gender used to market clothes for babies?  How does this vary historically and culturally?

The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need the most essential components.

Keywords: gender, market, clothes, historically, culturally

Research question "What are some of  the major shifts in U.S. refugee policy since 1970, and what political factors contributed to those shifts?" with the keywords "shifts," "U.S. refugee policy," and "political factors" highlighted

Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!


Keyword: shifts     Synonym: changes


Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

Example of tools to refine searchLibrary databases have built in search tools. Try some of these:

  • Date: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Scholarly Journals: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Format: Limit your search to articles, books, images, etc.
  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.

Look on the left of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!

Advanced Search Tips


Boolean search refugee policy AND political factors

Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

refugee policy AND political factors

This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.

Boolean search using the terms sifts OR changes

Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.

shifts OR changes

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.

Advanced search using the keywords "refugee policy" in quotes and the keywords U.S. and changes OR shfits

Use the “QUOTES” strategy to search for several words in a phrase.

"refugee policy"

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.