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Tutorials: Overview

Searching With Keywords

Searching library databases isn't like searching Google--it's more comparable to online shopping. You'll need to use keywords instead of sentences, and spelling matters, so it's recommended you keep a dictionary and thesaurus tab open for help. 

Keywords are the main idea of your topic or sentence. Here are a few examples to help you pinpoint your own keywords:

Research question: How does immigration affect the economy of the United States?
Keywords: immigration AND economy AND United States

Research question: What effect does poverty have on mental health?
Keywords: poverty AND mental health
When searching, you'll need to develop your keywords as you go--the goal is to find the words an expert in your field would use. Here are a few ways to find those: 
  • find an article on your subject from a large news magazine (like Time, Forbes, or The New Yorker) and note the words they use
  • enter your keywords into a thesaurus and try the alternate options
  • enter your search question into Google and scan the results for alternate language 
  • ask a librarian!

Suggested Databases

This list is only a starting point--as a member of the Saint Paul College Community, you have access to over 100 databases through the library. You can see them all, and search by subject, here. 

Search Tips

Searching in databases can return hundreds or even thousands of results, but there are simple ways to refine your search in order to find exactly what you're looking for. Using the following terms can help you be more specific. 

AND       Use AND to narrow your search. For example, searching eviction AND minnesota will find resources with both terms, helpfing you to find more specific results. You can keep adding terms with AND: eviction AND minnesota AND pandemic AND landlord
OR                 Use OR to broaden your search. OR is particularly helpful if your term has a frequently used synonym. For example, you can search landlord OR property manager to find articles that contain either term. 
NOT Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search. For example, using eviction NOT COVID will bring back results for eviction but will exclude COVID-related articles. 
* Truncation allows you to search alternative word endings. For example, evict* will search evict, evicted, and eviction all at the same time. 
? A wildcard replaces one character in a word. Wom?n will search women and woman. 
# # can accommodate spellings where a character may or may not be present. For example, colo#r will search color and colour. 

Suggested Phrases

The following keyword searches may be helpful as a starting place for your research:
[your topic] AND psychological aspects
[your topic] AND political aspects
[your topic] AND religious aspects
[your topic] AND personal narratives
[your topic] AND public opinion
[your topic] AND (laws or regulations)
[your topic] AND statistical data
[your topic] AND social policy
[your topic] AND interviews
[your topic] AND crimes against
[your topic] AND health aspects
Phrase list compiled by Kathy Herrlich, Research & Instruction Services, Northeastern University