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U.S. Women's History - Digital History

A course guide for Dr. Elaine Nelson's U.S. Women's History focused on digital history resources and primary sources.

Keyword Searching

Beginning the Search

Unlike Google or other internet search engines, library databases work best when you enter keywords or "search strings" rather than phrases or sentences.

Keywords represent the main ideas and concepts in your research topic. Since each database can categorize the main concepts of your research  under a different subject heading, it is important to brainstorm different words authors may use for your topic so that you have alternate search options if you have difficulty finding resources.

There are a few types of keywords that you can work with, depending on your topic.

  • Narrow
  • Broader
  • Related
  • Similar

Having a range of keywords can help you find many different types of information. 

How do I use keywords?

You can put keywords together to search for information in library databases. 

Boolean Operators

When searching databases with keywords, you can use Boolean operators to combine those terms into a search string. The Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT.

The image below shows you how to use each of the Boolean terms within your search.

Searching with AND

When you connect keywords with AND you will narrow your search because you will only receive results that include BOTH keywords.

Searching with OR

When you use OR to connect keywords you broaden your search because the database will give you results that include either of your keywords.

Searching with NOT

When you use NOT with your keywords you narrow your search again because your results will exclude any sources including the second keyword.

Expert Tips

Search Order

Databases follow the commands you type in, so be aware of the order of your keywords and Boolean operators: 

  • Databases usually recognize AND as the primary operator, and will connect concepts with AND together first.
  • If you use a combination of AND and OR operators in a search, enclose the words connected by OR together in parentheses.
  • Examples:
    • ethics AND (cloning OR reproductive techniques)
    • (ethics OR morals) AND (bioengineering OR cloning)


Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
  • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
  • Examples: 
    • child* = child, children, childhood
    • genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
  • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: * and ?


Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.

  • This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.
  • Examples: 
    • wom!n = woman, women
    • gr?y = gray, grey​

Search History

In many databases you can view your search history. This is important because it can keep you from duplicating an unsuccessful search, allow you to combine searches, and track your successful search attempts.

You can also set up alerts so the database will alert you to new articles/resources that match one of your searches.

Evaluating Sources

Google Search Tips

Read the full guide Get More Out of Google for more great search tips!

Google Searching


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Claire Du Laney
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Subjects: History