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Basic Research and Writing: Search Strategies

Some helpful tips for getting started with research and writing.

General Search Strategies

Searching the library catalog with words related to your topic is the most general way to start -- this is called a "keyword search". Keyword searches will give you a mix of books, films, and other materials from the library catalog. Search terms depend greatly on the topic you have in mind and can be manipulated to help narrow your search (see the column to the right for tips on adapting your search terms).

But it's not the only way to search -- A keyword search is a good starting point, but it will yield too many results for most situations. You’ll need to use the "Advanced Search" option or you can select filters (found on the left hand side of the online catalog results page); both the Advanced Search and filters have many more choices for steering your search in a more specific direction.

Additionally, you can further narrow down results by additional search tags, library locations, and types of materials (left side of your screen).

Tip: topic and keyword searches are also useful for finding articles in the library’s online databases.

Specific Search Strategies

Keyword searching vs. Subject searching:

Both Keyword and Subject searches are useful, but they give different results.

  • Keyword searches are useful when you're using a word that means something very specific. For example, "Choreography" refers specifically to the planning of the sequence of steps that form a dance, and "Choreography" is rarely used to describe something other than this definition. (From the library's homepage, type any search term and you have a keyword search.)
  • Subject searches are useful when you're using a word that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, "Dance" means dance, but it also appears in expressions that have nothing to do with dance. Thus, some of the results for a Keyword search of "Dance" include the word "dance" but are actually about non-dance topics (for instance, the physics book Dance of the Photons). A subject search for "Dance" eliminates non-dance books from the search results.

There are various other types of searches for when you know some of the information you're looking for, such as the Author's name, or the title of a book. You can narrow your search by subject, author, or title by going to "Advanced Search" and using the drop down tabs next to the search boxes to select the type of search you would like to conduct.

The Meaning of * (Wildcard):

* picks up any character after the end of the typed-in term and is useful for words with many variants. For example, danc* brings up dance, dances, dancing, dancer, dancers, dancer's, dancers', and more variants that may be on a library items' descriptions.

Boolean Phrases:

Boolean phrases allow you to modify the relationship between the terms you use in a search. There are three common boolean phrases:

  • AND -- combines two (or more) search terms so results contain all of the search terms.
  • OR -- brings up items containing either of your search terms.
  • NOT -- eliminates results containing one (or more) of your search terms.

To find fewer results: narrow the search with “and”  

To find more: broaden the search with “or