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WRIT 105CR (Hammer, Fall 2021): Research Tips

Constructing Effective Keyword Search Strategies


What you need to know about constructing the most effective keyword search strategy:

  • Use keywords and or phrases that best describe what you're looking for; start specific then be more general depending on your results
  • The objective is to retrieve a small group of relevant records. 
  • Anything can be a keyword - people, places, time periods, events, types of information (e.g., personal narrative), issues, and more can be keywords.
  • Try multiple keyword and or phrase searches.
  • Reference books (academic encyclopedias, handbooks, and dictionaries) are good sources for effective keywords, and background/factual information.
  • Consider searching specific fields (e.g., title, subject ) to narrow or broaden results 

Sample KEYWORD searches for sources (books, chapters, and articles) the Black Arts Movement and identity.

  • black arts movement (basic search)
  • black arts movement AND identity (advanced search)
  • black arts movement AND idenity AND baraka
  • african americans AND national characteristics (Advanced search)
  • race identity and african american* (Basic search)
  • American identity AND african americans (Advanced search)

Research Tips and Strategies

  • When keyword searching, use key words that best describe your topic.  The objective is to get a small group of relevant records.  People, places themes, characters, time periods, events, types of information (i.e. ethnography) issues and more can be key words.  What words or phrases best describe your topic?

  • Evaluate your search results.  If you don’t see related materials in the top 10-20 items of your search results, reconstruct your search using alternative keywords, synonyms, narrower terms, more terms, etc.  The goal is to get a small group of relevant records.
  • Note the citation/source information (journal title, volume #, issue #, and date) before leaving the database, even if just to go to another window.  The citation is the most important information in the database record and is required to locate the article text, online or in print.
  • Raid bibliographies.  Books and articles have bibliographies and references.  Use them so you don’t have to spend hours database searching.

  • In the library, like materials are shelved together.  When looking for a particular book on the shelf, also scope out what’s shelved next to it.  Books and back issues of periodicals are inter-filed on the shelves in call number order.

  • Consult a librarian. We work across the disciplines, will refer you if necessary, and can help track down sources, explain library services, interpret citations and find the most useful keywords.  The Ask a Librarian (see box on left) service provides 24/7 access to a librarian.

Research Worksheet

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