Skip to Main Content

History 08 (Martin): How to Create a More Effective Search

Sitting on a Man: African Gender

What Should I Type in the Search Box?

The words you type into the search box affect your search results. Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try a variety of searches.

  • Create a list of possible words that could appear in a book or article related to your topic of interest.
  • Come up with synonyms or related terms for those.
  • If you're researching a topic from an historical point of view, it may also be helpful to come up with historical terms that might not be commonly used today.
  • Stick to using 2-4 nouns when searching.

How Do I Connect Terms Together in the Search Box?

Use OR to broaden your search.

  • For example, if you search feminism OR gender, you will find articles that include either term.

Use AND to narrow your search.

  • For example, if you search feminism AND Africa, you will only find articles that include both terms.

Use NOT to exclude results with certain words.

  • If you search "women's movement" NOT Nigeria you will find articles that include the phrase "women's movement" except for those that also include the term Nigera.
  • In Google, use a minus sign instead of NOT (e.g. "women's movement" -Nigeria).
  • You do have to be careful with this approach because just one mention of the term or phrase you are excluding may hide potentially relevant information from your results.

Use quotation marks to search for a phrase (two words or more).

  • feminist theory
  • “women's movements”
  • West Africa

Use a truncation symbol (the asterisk * is the most common) to look for different word endings or variant spellings of words.

  • femini* = feminine, feminino (Spanish), feminist, feminism, etc.
  • wom*n = woman, women
  • politic* = politic, politics, political, etc.

How Library Stuff Works: How to Choose Keywords

McMaster Libraries (2:42)

This video reviews how to break down a topic into a few keywords.

Online Research: Tips for Effective Search Strategies

Sarah Clark (3:04)

This video reviews Boolean searching (AND, OR, NOT), quotation marks, and truncation (asterisk / star symbol).