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HIST 21B Buelna

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:  Why was the participation of women important in the Watsonville Cannery strike?  


  • women
  • Watsonville Cannery
  • strike


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: Women     Synonym: Female


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

Ven diagram:  two different overlapping circles with the words "women" and "Watsonville Cannery" and the word "and" in the middle where they overlap


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

Women AND Watsonville Cannery

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

Ven diagram:  two different overlapping circles with the words "women" and "female" and the word "or in the middle where they overlap

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

women OR female

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

OneSearch advanced search box with the search terms women OR female, "Watsonville Cannery" in quotes, and strike.

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

"Watsonville Cannery"

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