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IDS 101: Working Hard or Hardly Working?: Keyword Searching

Advice for effective KEYWORD searching article oriented databases & library catalogs

There are 6 central concepts that are important to grasp, in order build an effective KEYWORD search strategy in any article oriented database OR library catalog:


  • #1:  If you have a MULTI WORD PHRASE you need to treat it differently - treat it like a mathematical expression, and put it inside a set of PARENTHESES:    For example:  Military Industrial Complex ===> (Military Industrial Complex)


  • #2:  Meaningful use of synonyms - do not search for just one word, to cover your core concept.  Try to include synonyms & unique phrases that are closely allied with your prinicpal area of focus. Separate each of the synonyms with the OR command:    For example:   Child abuse ===> (Child abuse) OR (Abused children) OR (Sexual abuse) OR (Sexually abused) OR (Physical abuse) OR (Physically abused) OR (Emotional abuse) OR (Emotionally abused)


  • #3:  Using WILDCARDS for variety of words that have similar starting point of spelling - do not search for just one word, if there are an entire family of words that all have the same base word.  The ASTERISK "*" is the wildcard to use most article oriented databases.    For example:   Econom* will automatically pull in:  Econometric OR Econometrically OR Economic OR Economically OR Economize OR Economizing


  • #4:  If you are trying to focus on a specific Geography, you really need to search for both the Name of the country / city / region, as well as searching for the People of that county / city / region, and sometimes adding in the name of their language.  For example, if you want to only focus on your topic in Holland, then you should formulate that component as ==> ( Holland OR Netherlands OR  Dutch )


  • #5:  If you have a HYPHENATED WORD you need to search for it both WITH and WITHOUT the hyphen::    For example:  Multi-National Corporations ===> (mutli-national corporations) OR (mutlinational corporations)


  • #6:  Understanding the searching options of that particular database -- if your database has the capability of specifying a unique field to search, try looking for your topic under the SUBJECT umbrella.   For example:  an ordinary search as contasted against  a subject only search


For some research toptics, the difference in the number of articles retrieved between these two simple options could be 4 to 1!

Gary Klein (Reference Librarian)

Gary Klein's picture
Gary Klein
Mark O. Hatfield Library
Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem, OR 97301

Work phone: #503-370-6743

Gary's general work schedule (Spring 2020):
Mon - Thu = 9:30am -- 9pm; Fri = 9:30am -- 5:30pm AND ALSO by appointment at other times.