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WRPR 101: Finding a Voice (HC): Search Tips

Writing Program 101: Finding a Voice: Identity, Environment, and Intellectual Inquiry (Ladva) Fall 2019

Tips for Searching

Keywords allow you to construct a search that reflects multiple issues in your research question. Building sets of related concepts and looking for their overlaps gives you more relevant and precise results.  This approach is also called Boolean searching using the operators (AND, OR, NOT). 

For example, a search for economic* AND academ* will return items that contain both terms:


academ* OR universit* OR college* OR "higher education" makes a larger set concerning college and university education:

Resnais NOT Holocaust returns items that contain "Resnais" but not "Holocaust":

Phrase searching:

Enclose phrases in quotations marks.  This is an important strategy for getting exact results when searching phrases (e.g., "american psychological association") or conducting known-item searches for titles.


Nested Searching:

When pairing two or more keywords with another keyword, it is important to "nest" the related terms within a larger Boolean search.

For example, (research OR scholarship) AND humanities will return results for humanities and any one (or both) of the parenthetical terms. 

(Many catalogs or databases will have an "advanced search" option, which provides multiple search boxes to facilitate nested Boolean searching.)


Truncation and Wildcards:

Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols.

For example, one could search for politic* to find poltic, politics, political, politician, and so on.

Wildcard searching works similarly: a search for wom?n will return results for both woman and women.

Tips for Searching Part 2

Subject Headings allow you to find relevant material grouped together including titles that do not use the keywords you may have been searching.


Finding subject headings

       Look at a book record in Tripod, check the subjects assigned to it, and choose whatever ones are relevant for your research.

Example:  A decade of dark humor: how comedy, irony, and satire shaped post-9/11 America

edited by Ted Gournelos.  University Press of Mississippi, 2001.


                           Political culture  United States  History  21st century

                           September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001  Influence

                           Mass media  Political aspects  United States

                           American wit and humor  History and criticis

                           Political satire, American

                           United States  Politics and government  2001-2009  Humor

                           United States  Politics and government  2001-2009

            Subject search   political satire american  =  79 results


Refining subject searches

                        You can combine different concepts into a single subject search for precision.  The results are more focused than a keyword search.

                         But all the words have to be terminology used in library subject cataloging.

                         To ensure this, you can use subject headings you have already found.  Another option is to browse in the subject headings for more choices.                   

                          Combination subject search:

                                  polit* satire (television OR media)  =  17 results

                                        Searches political satire within the context of the media