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ENC 1101 - Composition I (Henken)

Using Keywords to Search the Library Databases

While you can type whole sentences or questions into Google and still retrieve search results, this approach will not work when searching for you peer-reviewed sources in the library databases. Instead, you will need to break down your topic and research questions into keywords

Let's say you were researching whether peer editing is a beneficial teaching strategy for college composition students. Instead of typing that whole phrase into the search box, you would start by identifying key concepts:

  • peer editing
  • teaching strategies
  • college composition

From there, think of synonyms for those keywords, considering terms that are broader and more specific. For example, some synonyms for "peer editing" could be "peer review" or "peer coaching." 

Selecting Keywords

This video and accompanying worksheet provide one strategy for identifying effective keywords.

Search Phrases and Search Limiters

Once you have your list of keywords, you can combine them into search phrases using Boolean operators to narrow or broaden the scope of your search. There are three common types of Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT. You will see these listed as options on the Advanced Search page of most library databases.

  • AND: use to combine search terms and make your search more specific, will locate sources containing all specified search terms
    • peer editing AND teaching strategy AND college composition
  • OR: use for synonyms and to broaden your search, will locate sources containing any of the specified search terms
    • peer editing OR peer coaching
  • NOT: use to exclude search terms and make your search more specific, will filter out results with specified term
    •  teaching strategy NOT online

Another strategy is to use quotation marks when you want to search for a particular phrase or concept. 

  • "peer editing"

Most databases and search engines will provide options to help refine your search to save you the time of sifting through irrelevant sources. Some of the common search limiters that will be most helpful to you are

  • Full text (ensure that you can access the full text of your source, not just an abstract or portion of the source) 
  • Scholarly, peer-reviewed
  • Publication date.

If you are performing a basic search in something like Primo or one of the databases, these search limiters will appear on the left hand side of your search results. When using the advanced search feature, the search limiters will appear on the search screen.