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ENGL 1S/1T, Lewis: Develop Search Strategies

A guide to library resources for students in Brian Lewis's ENGL 1S/1T class focusing on culture and society.

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 global warming. 

The main concepts, or keywords, are

global warming

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

Global Warming

  • climate change


  • reasons
  • factors
  • greenhouse gases
  • air pollution
  • carbon dioxide

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



Use Boolean Search Operators To Connect Your Keywords

There are three little words that are used as Boolean operators: AND, OR, and NOT

Think of each keyword as having a set of results that is connected to it. These sets can be combined in different ways to produce different sets of results. You can also exclude certain sets from your 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:

global warming and causes

A more complex search using your synonyms:

(global warming or climate change) and (causes or air pollution or carbox dioxide)