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Information Literacy: Guide for Students: Searching for Sources

Guide for Library Instruction

Searching Strategies

Search Terms: How do I describe my topic?

Most researchers confront an initial struggle to come up with a good set of terms that describe a particular topic. For example:

Topic idea: Dangerous driving Research question: What type of driver behavior is most risky?

1. Do a preliminary search

As you begin to brainstorm ideas, you might also try some preliminary searches with the terms you have already identified:

Dangerous / driving / driver behavior / risk

You might wish to start a search with the most important terms. Let's try 'dangerous driving".

Academic Search Complete
Limit Your Results

Image: Record of article on distracted driving from library database

2. Identify the best 'subject terms' for your topic

This might be a good article, but even if it is not, note the subject terms associated with this topic:

  • Text messaging & driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Accident prevention
  • Situational awareness
  • Cell phones

And those are from just one of the hundreds of articles your initial searches might produce.

3. Construct a new search

Using the most relevant of these and any others you discover, construct a new search! You can start with a 'broad' search and narrow as you go:

Search box with search terms text messaging and driving

By searching with the terms that library databases prefer (subject terms), you should yield better, more relevant articles.

Your research or exploratory essay will be far better if you:

  • Seek out and review a variety of sources
  • Go well beyond the 'minimum requirements' of your assignment
  • Search for sources in library catalogs, databases, and the web
  • Conduct several searches using a variety of terminology related to your topic
  • Ask a librarian, "What might I be missing?" once you have searched for a variety of resources

1. Books, government documents, and documentary (non-fiction) videos provide useful information.

  • Addressing the basic facts, history, background or major themes for your topic
  • Include commentary for researchers and experts whose names you can search
  • Often include bibliographies with access to additional resources you can use.

2. Try a Discovery@Kent State Search

Discovery@Kent State is the library’s discovery layer – a tool that searches for content across multiple library databases. Learn more about how this tool works, and how you can use it effectively for your research.

3. Consider sources beyond Kent State Libraries

As a KSU student, you have have borrowing privileges for print materials* from OHIOLINK Libraries and access to Interlibrary Loan. Provided you allow yourself some lead-time, there's no reason your search for sources needs to be limited to our materials and electronic sources.


Choice of terms matters: What are the best terms for searching?

As you work to discover good source material, you will encounter specialized language that describes your topic:

"keywords" AND "subject terms"

Image: search boxes indicating where keywords or subject terms should go

keywords: When you search using keywords, you have brainstormed a term associated with your topic, and you are hoping that there is a book, video, or article that is related to your search term. In database terms, however, the search looks for your term anywhere in the item's record.

subject terms: When you use a subject term, your search will only produce records of those items (articles, videos, or books) that have been indexed with that specific term.

For Example:

If you try a keyword search such as: va programs

Image: screenshot of words or phrase search "Va Programs"

You find a book's record that looks like this:

Book record with keywords used and subject term pointed out

However, you also get these two books on finance. Why?

Image: Book Cover for 'Decoding the New Mortgage Market"         Image: Book Cover for Real Estate Finance

Because the two terms 'VA' and 'programs' were in each record, although the terms weren't even next to one another. So in our books and AV catalog, only 3 items were found using VA programs as our search terms. By searching, instead, with the subject term 'Veterans', however, you would find well over 90 books and videos, all of which are far more relevant and helpful for your topic.

Image: Search box of subject search using the term 'veterans'

Image: Search results showing the number '93 titles'

It's important, of course, that you do some initial searching with keywords in order to discover the best subject terms for your topic.

Get Help!

In Person:

Library Hours & Location Information:

Phone: Contact: Dr. Mary Hricko, Library Director at 440-834-3717

Email Questions:  Library HELP

The 'Boolean Operators' tutorial is courtesy of Lexi Spry & UW-Madison's School of Library and Information Studies.

Effectively Using Boolean Search Strategies

Boolean operators form the basis of mathematical sets and database logic.

  • They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.
  • The three basic boolean operators are: ANDOR, and NOT.

Why use Boolean operators?

  • To focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms.
  • To connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you're looking for.

Using AND

Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics

The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search. It is a small set using AND, the combination of all three search words.

Using OR

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a big set because any of those words are valid using the OR operator.

Using NOT

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms
  • example:  cloning NOT sheep