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GART 460: Senior Seminar I: Advanced Search Tips

Selecting Keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

1.  Express your topic in a topic sentence or research question: “What is the effect of television violence on children?”

2.  Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence:  “What is the effect of television violence on children?” = Television, Violence, Children. Leave out the small, common words that would be found in hundreds of irrelevant articles, e.g. What, Is, The, Effect, Of, On. Choose keywords that represent the main ideas of your topic.

3.  Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:

  • Television – media, TV
  • Violence – aggression, hostility
  • Children – toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls

Combining Search Terms

You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are mathematics AND curriculum:

  • AND – Narrows and focuses the search results. The search mathematics AND curriculum will bring only results where both the terms mathematics and curriculum are present.  
  • OR – Broadens the search results. Using OR will bring results where the term mathematics is present, or results where curriculum is present, or results where both terms are present.  OR is useful if you have more than one way to refer to a concept -- Example: elementary OR primary.
  • NOT – Excludes anything where the term after the NOT is present -- Example: school NOT college

Wildcards & Truncation

You can add special symbols called "wildcards" to a search term in order to receive more results. Often times this is used if a you're not familiar with a spelling, a word has multiple spellings, or you're trying to recall specific information. Different search tools, databases, and database providers utilize different wildcard characters, but the asterisk or "star" (*) is one of the most commonly used.

Truncation allows you to search various forms of a word by finding alternate endings. The wildcard character is placed at the end of the first few letters of a search term or at the end of its root. A root is the base or most simplified form of a word.

For example, using the search terms "Indian*"  may find information containing "Indian, Indians, Indiana, Indianapolis"

Each database or database provider utilizes different wildcard characters and may have restrictions such as searching no less than 3 letters to achieve results.

Finding Similar Articles

Good researchers typically want to review a broad range of the existing scholarship on their topics. The process of examining relevant, previously-published materials is often referred to as conducting a "Review of the Literature" and many scholarly articles even feature a section called "Literature Review."

When you've found one article directly relevant to your research, the library's search engine makes it easier to find more like it. When you click on the title of an article that appears in your search results, you'll typically see a list of data about that article including publication information, an abstract, and often, a list of keywords, subjects, subject terms, or "descriptors" that can be used to begin a new, more focused search.

Keywords, Subject Terms, and Descriptors

The terms used may vary, but most scholarly journal articles you find through the library's search engine will include a list of terms like those depicted above.

In addition, you'll also find a link on the left side of the page that says "Find Similar Results." Clicking this link will conduct a new search for articles that have the same or similar keywords, subject terms, or descriptors.

Finally, you can typically find a list of sources on related topics by carefully reviewing the References, Works Cited, or Bibliography at the end of any scholarly journal article.