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History: Books & Films Online

1. Keyword Searching

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1. Keywords

Use your class notes and texbook to identify keywords for your topic.  These might be people, places, events, or other terms. 

For example if you were looking for a book on U.S. Mexican War some keywords might be:

  • U.S. Mexican War, Mexican American War
  • Manifest Destiny
  • The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
  • The Battle of San Pasqual
  • Saint Patrick's Battalion
  • Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, James K. Polk

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: What were the motivations of the Saint Patrick's Batallion and how were they received in Mexico and the United States?

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

Keywords:  motivations, Saint Patrick's Battalion, perceived, Mexico,  United States


GIF of research question "What were the motivations of the Saint Patrick's Battalion and how were they perceived in Mexico and the United States" with the words motivations, Saint Patrick's Battalion, perceived, Mexico, and United States 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: perception     Synonym: response


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 with words "Saint Patricks" AND "Newspapers"

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

Saint Patrick's AND Newspapers

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

Ven diagram with the words "Saint Patrick's" OR "San Patricios"

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

Saint Patrick's OR San Patricios

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

example of an advanced search in OneSearch using "Saint Patrick's" OR "San Patricios" AND battalion

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

"Saint Patrick's"

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