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An Introduction to Library Research

General Search Strategies: Subject Searching

Subject Searching

·         Using subject searching is different than keyword searching.

·         Subject searching is less flexible than keyword searching, as it works off a pre-existing list of subject headings created by the database.

·         You can focus your topic by using subject headings, or use a subject heading as a keyword in a keyword search if it is relevant.

Examples of subject headings listed under an article citation in the Infotrac database:

Subject Terms – view other documents related to these subjects

Advertising (12279)

 -  Surveys (155)

Sex Roles (5127)

 -  Surveys (44)

Women (24957)

Women’s Media (18)

 -  Portrayals (2353)

General Search Strategies: Keyword Searching

Searching for books in a library catalog or articles in a database can be a challenge. Sometimes it seems like there are too many things on your topic and other times, nothing at all. Constructing a successful search takes time and thought and will usually bring useful results quickly. Here are some suggestions for ways to enhance your search capabilities!


Keyword Searching


·         Keyword searching is the most flexible way to search as the database looks for the exact keywords you put into the search box.


·         You need to brainstorm key terms related to your topic. Thinking of synonyms for your key terms is helpful and helps you to refocus your search, creating more possibilities for successful database hits.


·         There is no one right keyword search. You will probably have to try different combinations of keywords to get a number of relevant citations.


·         Use “and” for a keyword search to narrow and focus.


·         Use * (star or asterisk) for truncation – to retrieve all forms of the word and to broaden your search..




women and images and media

body image and women and media

* (Retrieves the terms: woman, women, woman’s women’s)

wom* and images and magazine



More Suggestions for Brainstorming Keywords

Identify good keywords to use in your search by thinking about the main ideas inherent in your topic.

Consider using synonyms of your keywords to help find even more information. For example, if you are looking for articles about the benefits of a womens college, you might use the keywords and synonyms below:

Keyowords:  women       education     benefit

Synonyms 1:   single sex    college   advantage

Synonyms 2:   female    school   leverage

General Search Strategies: "Citation Mining" aka "Snowballing"

"Citation Mining" aka "Snowballing"

  1. Take a good article you already found
  2. Search for any other articles by that same author
    1. The database you are in may have a feature that allows you to do this
    2. Or just search for articles by using the author's name (use the 'author' choice in the field search menu to the right of the search box)
      1. Caution: Make sure you put the author's whole name if you can (not just last name or just last with initials) to try to avoid getting results from other authors with the same last name
      2. You may have to try typing the author's name family name first, but also search after typing the name in the usual first name - last name order
  3. Now, examine the References / Works Cited / Bibliography at the end of that good article for any more relevant stuff the author had cited
  4. Now, go to Google Scholar
    1. Type the complete title of that first, good article, with double quotes ( " ) at each end - a type of 'phrase search' and run that
    2. Make sure that good article is there in the results listing
    3. Click on the 'Cited By' link just below that good article
    4. Go and look at the articles who cited that first, good article, and see if any of those may be useful


This technique can lead you to many more useful articles....