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Humanities: Keywords & Evaluation

Use this guide to assist with locating resources for assignments in Humanities-based disciplines

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Keywords for Searching

Use Keyword Searching when:
  • You are unsure of the professional term used by experts and are using the name you assign to the idea 
  • You are searching in two or more databases at the same time
  • Your term may be related to a new theory or idea that may not be included in the controlled vocabulary
  • Your term could appear in multiple places, such as the title, abstract, or the full text of the article (depending on how the database is set up to search)

Use Controlled Vocabulary Searching when:

  • You are searching in only one database
  • You are using controlled vocabulary after consulting a thesaurus or index
  • You are using subject terms from an article's description or citation within the source, so you know experts use the exact term 

Basic Keyword Searching

Advanced Search Strategies

Helpful Searching Tools:
  • Truncation – to search with various versions of the same word, use the word root and a wild card symbol
    • Parent* will find: parent, parents, parenting, parental 
  • Synonyms – enclose words with similar meanings in parentheses or put them into separate search boxes
    • (teen* or juvenile* or adolesc* or youth)
  • Phrases – enclose a phrase in quotation marks to indicate that the word should be searched together (for most databases)
    • “teen pregnancy” or “market share”
Expanding & Limiting Results with Logical operators (Boolean operators): 
  • or – expands the number of results and is used with the synonyms
    • (teenagers or adolescents)
  • and – limits the number of results and each term must have "and" between the term. Each additional “and” (subject, language, publication year) decreases the number of results
    • (teenagers and pregnancy) 
  • not – excludes information
    • (art not sculpture)

Constructing Searches

Here's a quick guide to constructing a database search.

Topic: What are the effects of caffeine on respiration rate and pulse rate after exercise?

1. Identify the key concepts (caffeine, respiration rate, pulse rate, exercise)

2. Group these according to concept.

Concept one = caffine

Concept two = respiration rate or pulse rate

Concept three - exercise


Use quotation marks around words you want to search as a phrase, e.g. "respiration rate".

Use truncation symbols to retrieve all possible endings on a word. Most databases use the asterisk (*) as a truncation symbol, e.g. exercis* with retrieve exercise, exercises, exercising, etc.

Be prepared to search more than one database. Always revise your search strategy to comply with individual database requirements.

Narrowing or Broadening Topics

To Narrow Down a Research Topic:
  • Theoretical Approach: Limit research to a particular approach or viewpoint
  • Aspect or Sub-Area: Limit the topic to one piece of the subject
  • Time: Limit the time span that you will examine
  • Population: Limit by age, sex, race, occupation, species, ethnic group, or another identifiable factor
  • Geographical: Limit research by geographical location
To Broaden a Research Topic:
  • Try generalizing the search terms, as the topic may be too specific
  • Search with synonyms of words within the topic
  • Explore subject terms used in an article you find useful to search using the controlled vocabulary of experts
  • Add more databases to the search or find additional database sources (i.e. JSTOR vs EBSCOhost)
  • Check if topic is too new and information is mostly in news sources as breaking news