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HIST 299: Spring 2023: Home

In Class Discussion

Keyword Brainstorming

Keywords, or search terms, are words that represent the main concepts in a research question. In history research, it is particularly important to be aware of whether you are looking for primary or secondary sources, and whether you are searching a full-text search tool (e.g. JSTOR, a full text newspaper database) or one where you are searching metadata such as titles or subject headings (e.g. an image database, OBIS or another library catalog). The same keywords will work differently in different search tools. 

Basic Database Search Techniques

Concept Explanation Example
Phrase search
(quotes required)
search for an exact phrase (most, but not all, databases use quotation marks) “death penalty”
“standardized test”
“reality TV”
Boolean logic (for keyword searching) use Boolean operators (AND, OR,
NOT) for more precise searching
See following examples
AND search for records that have all of the words (narrows the search)

race and poverty

drug use and educational attainment

OR search for records that have any of the words (broadens the search)

homosexual or gay or lesbian or queer

china or japan or korea

NOT exclude records that have the word (narrows the search) advertising not (TV or television)
Truncation search for a root word with any ending (most, but not all, databases use an asterisk *) adolescen* [finds adolescent, adolescents, adolescence]


Additional Database Techniques

Concept Definition Example
Complex Boolean Search place search words for the same
concept in the same search box
(or in parentheses)
(spous* or wife or wives or husband* or domestic partner*) and (abus* or batter* or violen*)
Proximity require words to appear within a certain distance of each other n (for “near”) = words can appear in any order w (for “within”) = words must appear in specified order poverty n4 mental health african w2 american* (n# and w# indicate the maximum number of intervening words) note: if no quotes or proximity connectors or are used, Ebsco defaults to w5
Field qualification (field limiting) require words to appear in a certain field in the database record (easy way: use dropdown menus)

au coleman (for author field)

ti racial profiling (for title field)

Limit (filter) restrict search results to a subset of the database e.g., by language, year of publication, type of publication
Add to folder select or save records from search results for future action save specified records to display, print, email, or add to bibliographic manager (e.g., RefWorks) later


Research Help


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Elizabeth Sullivan
Main Library, 105 Mudd