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WRPR 182: The American Family in Historical Perspective (HC)

Writing Program 182: The American Family in Historical Perspective (Lapsansky) Spring 2023

Tips for Searching Part 1

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 called Boolean searching using the operators (AND, OR, NOT). 

For example, a search for old age  AND health care will return items that contain both of the concepts:


older OR elderly returns items that contain either one of the terms or both:

medicare NOT medicaid returns items that discuss the health program for the elderly but do not mention Medicaid:

Phrase searching:

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


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, politicians, and so on.

Wildcard searches are for differences within words: a search for wom?n will return results for woman, women, and womyn.


Nested Searching:

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

For example, (older OR elderly OR aged OR aging) AND  (politic* OR economic*) will return results for the union of the two subject areas.

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:  Old Age and the Search for Security: An American Social History

By Carole Haber and Brian Gratton.  Indiana University Press, 1994.


         Old age  United States  History  

         Older people   United states  Economic conditions

         Older people   United states  Social conditions

         Social security   United States  


            Subject search   older people  united states  social conditions  =  235 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.  

             Combination subject and keyword search:

 (older OR "old age" OR elderly OR aging OR aged) AND (economic* OR poor OR poverty) [Keyword]  AND "united states"  AND history [Subject]=  130 results