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ENGL 1A, Escamilla: Develop Search Strategies

Guide for students in Kimberly Escamilla's ENGL 1B course looking at the science behind stereotype threat and various types of biases, including implicit bias.

From Topic to Keywords

What are keywords?

Most databases don't understand the natural language we speak, so pick out the main concepts in your topic to use as search terms. For example, let's say you are writing a paper on the ethical aspects of racial profiling. 

The main concepts, or keywords, are

racial profiling

Hint: leave out little words like the or of.

Think of synonyms and variations

In order to do a comprehensive search, think of synonyms and variations of your main concepts

Racial profiling

  • ethnic profiling
  • race-based profiling


  • morality
  • ethical

Roget's Thesaurus can help you think of other search terms. 

Use Boolean Search Operators To Connect Your Keywords

Think of each keyword as having a set of results that is connected to it. These sets can be combined in different ways to to create larger or smaller sets of results. You can also exclude certain sets from your results. Boolean operators - AND, OR, and NOT - are the tools you use to combine these sets of results.

The table below explains how Boolean operators work.

Boolean Operator Examples Retrieves


Boolean AND

AND combines different terms when both must be present. Use AND to narrow a search.


Boolean OR

OR combines terms when at least one must be present. Use OR to broaden a search.


Boolean NOT

NOT eliminates irrelevant terms from a search. Use NOT when you want to exclude all records that contain a certain term.

Sample Searches

A basic search would look like this:

racial profiling and ethics

A more complex search using your synonyms:

(racial profiling or ethnic profiling) and (ethics or morality or ethical)


racial profiling mind map