Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

ENGL 100 - Intro to College Writing: Keywords & Search Tips

Where to Search

The best place to start searching is usually the main search box on the library's homepage.

main search boxThe main search box provides access to books, periodicals, scholarly (peer reviewed) academic journal articles, ebooks, media, and credible online resources--all with one simple search. Entering a few keywords in this box will automatically search over 100 separate databases, each of which includes material from literally thousands of different sources.

There are a few special databases, though, that are particularly helpful to students in first-year composition classes. These databases are online collections of the types of articles that most professors want students to use in their ENGL 100, ENGL 101, and ENGL 102 research papers. These databases also categorize their content according to certain subject areas that are frequently written about by students in those classes.

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

Database Search Tips

  • Select Scholarly Sources to limit you search to only articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals.
  • Select Full-Text to see only articles you can read immediately.
  • If the full text of an article isn't available, you can request it for free through InterLibrary Loan (ILLIAD). Articles usually take 24-48 hours to arrive, and are sent to you by email.
  • When you have found an article that is close to what you are looking for, look at the subject headings. Try searching these terms to find relevant articles.
  • Look at the references/citations at the end of an article to find more articles on your topic.

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.