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ENGS 057B : Race as U.S. Social Fact and Fiction - Gennari (Fall 2017)

develop a successful keyword search

Keyword Searching - Help

Visit the Focus Your Topic page to see a list of suggested keywords that might be useful in your research.

Keyword Search - Introduction

Keywords : Words/terms that represent the main points/ideas of a topic -  the most significant words in a topic, book or article. Used when searching databases and library catalogs as well as search engines on the Web.

Keyword searching finds words anywhere in the database record - in the title, subject headings, author's name, etc. Use the most important (or, "key") words in your topic, to get the most relevant results.

Identify Key Concepts
Write down your research question and circle or underline the words or terms that express the main idea/s.

Develop a List of Search Terms and Related Terms

Using the correct words to search will help you find relevant information. Use your research question to help you create a list of keywords to use in your searches.

Different authors and databases use different terms to describe the same concepts (e.g., death penalty / capital punishment). It’s useful to have a list of similar/related terms when you begin your research.

  • For each idea/concept, brainstorm a list of keywords that best describe your research question.
  • Think of synonyms, as well as broader and narrower terms for each keyword. Consider variant spellings (e.g., hiphop, hip-hop, hip hop)


Depending on the database, you may need to make your search more general or more specific.

Book titles are often quite general, and usually it is not possible to search the contents of the book.  In the Library Catalog, search terms may need to be more general.

Journal and newspaper article titles tend to be much more specific, so in an article database, you might have to adjust your search and add more specific search terms.

Use a Keyword Search

  • ANDnarrow your search down by combining two or more terms. All terms must be present.
    Example: segregation  and baseball

    OR - broaden your search by combining synonyms or alternative forms of words. Also, note variant spellings. Any of the words must be present. Write down any commonly used alternatives to/synonyms for your search terms and connect them with or
    Example: segregation or  discrimination

  • NOT - excludes terms from a search; narrows and focuses a search   Example: football  not soccer

  • TRUNCATION (aka wildcard) - symbol used at the end of a word or rootword to retrieve variant word endings, including plurals; makes a search more efficient by decreasing the number of searches.    Example: segregat* retrieves: segregate, segregation, segregated
    Many (not all) databases use the * as the truncation symbol. Check the online Help in each database to find which symbol is used.

  • Put the search together. Make your search more efficient by using the "and"   "or" connectors in one search.