Finding the Right Words
How to search databases, Tripod, and other resources effectively
Most scholarly databases work differently than Google or other websites you're used to searching. Here are a few essential strategies:
- Be persistent - the first few searches you try in any given database probably won't work all that well. This does not mean the database or website won't be useful, just that you haven't found the relevant materials yet.
- Choose your search terms carefully - try multiple keywords and phrases, ranging from very narrow terms to broader topics.
- Try combining your search terms using Advanced Search features. These work somewhat differently from one database to the next. It takes some time to learn how to use Advanced Searching effectively - this is a skill you may want to ask a librarian to help you develop.
- Many databases (including Tripod) contain controlled vocabularies that give you a consistent set of terms that describe particular concepts. Often these will be called "subject headings" or "subjects."
Questions for generating search terms
|Finding Primary Sources||Finding Secondary Sources|
Are there historical names for any of the locations you're researching?
What words were used to describe your topic within the historical context you're researching?
Did any of the individuals or organizations involved use different names at the time?
Have you tried alternative spellings, abbreviations, and synonyms?
What language would an historian (or other scholar) use to describe your research topic?
Could you find useful scholarship related to your topic by finding scholarly sources that deal with the broader context?
Try searching for scholarly sources that use historical place names, synonyms, alternative spellings, and other variations.