Choosing Search Terms
Choose search terms that you expect to find in written documents about your topic.
If you're looking for secondary sources (journal articles, books), use the language you would expect to find in a scholarly publication. If you're looking for primary sources, consider the language of the time you are researching and reflect that in your search terms.
Sometimes it is helpful to browse a few sources from the time and place you're studying in order to get a better sense for what search terms to use.
Here are some general ideas to consider when developing your search terms:
- Alternate or historical place names (e.g. Beijing / Peking)
- Maiden names
- Initials and full names
- British spellings
- Spellings and terms in use during the time period
- Abbreviations vs. full words
Once you have found a few sources on your topic, take note of the language that is being used.
If your topic is a political or social issue, do individuals on opposing sides use different terms? For example, pro-life versus pro-choice versus anti-choice.
Finding the Right Words
Strategies to Improve Searches
Find information more effectively and efficiently by using these strategies. All of these strategies work in Tripod, and most work in search engines and databases as well.
Use this strategy when researching concepts that are phrases (e.g. Manifest Destiny or French Revolution), or when searching for a specific book or article (i.e. where you already know the exact title - e.g. Peasants Into Frenchmen).
- For example, French Revolution will search for French AND revolution
- However, "French Revolution" in quotation marks will search for only this exact phrase. This increases the chance that the books listed will discuss what you're interested in.
- Beyond Tripod: Phrase searching works in Google and most databases (e.g. JSTOR, America, History and Life, Proquest)
Save time by searching for multiple synonyms at once. This is sometimes called "nested searching" or "set searching."
- For example, (physician OR doctor) AND (woman OR female) will return results that match at least one term from each set of parentheses. So in this case, you'd get results that contain either (or both) physician or doctor, and that also contain either (or both) woman or female.
- Try set searching in Tripod by using Tripod Advanced search.
- Beyond Tripod: Many catalogs or databases will have an "advanced search" option, which provides multiple search bars to facilitate nested searching.
Truncation and Wildcards:
Most catalogs and databases enable users to search variations of keywords by using truncation (*) or wildcard (e.g., ?, $, !) symbols. Consider using wildcard searching when there are multiple spellings of a word (e.g. globalization and the British spelling globalisation).
- For example, one could search for politic* to find poltic, politics, political, politicking, and so on. (Google does this automatically.)
- Wildcard searching works similarly: a search for wom?n will return results for women and woman. (Note: this does not work in Google)
Putting it all together:
Try combining these search strategies to improve your search results.
Example: "civil war" AND (physician* OR doctor*) AND (wom?n OR female)