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ENGL 1C, Herman: Develop Search Strategies

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 causes of climate change.

The main concepts, or keywords, are

climate change
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

Climate change

  • global warming
  • climate emergency


  • reasons
  • greenhouse gas
  • deforestation

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 Search

A basic search would look like this:

climate change and causes

A more complex search using your synonyms:

(climate change or global warming) and (causes or reasons)


climate change word map

Search Terms for Environmental Racism

Interested in exploring environmental racism? Here are some ideas. Note: for multi-word terms it might be quicker to search for the term in quotes such as "green new deal" so that you get the exact meaning you are intending.

  • environmental racism
  • environmental justice
  • synthetic age
  • eco equity
  • energy equity
  • food equity
  • food desert
  • waste equity
  • water equity
  • pollution equity
  • transport equity
  • ecology California
  • social inequity
  • economic inequity
  • environmental destruction
  • green new deal
  • pesticide
  • pollution