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RWS Library Instruction Review

Links and more information about library resources

Beginning your search

When you see a search box, it can be tempting just copy/paste your research topic into the box but OneSearch and other databases do not work like Google. 

The first this you want to do is select 'Advanced Search' on whatever database you're using. 

Advanced search will:

  • give you more search boxes
  • give you more control over your search
  • help you use Boolean operators

Separate your search terms, don't use sentences.

TIP: Put quotes ( " " ) around terms with two or more words, for example, "social media" or "critical race theory".

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators sound intimidating but they're just a tool that you can use when plugging in your keywords/search terms. When you select 'Advanced Search' on OneSearch, one of the drop-down menus will have the words AND, OR, and NOT as options.

What do they do? Think of the search bar as a mathematical equation. AND, OR, and NOT are the +, -, = of your mathematical equation. 

  • AND: Using AND tells the database to find results that have two or more of your search terms, depending on where you put them.
    • For example, you could search for: Voting AND Great Depression AND Women. The results would include ALL three of those search terms.
  • OR: Using OR tells that database to find results that contain either one of the terms. You could use this if there are related concepts that you're interested in or even different words that express the same concept.
    • For example, you could search for: High School OR College
  • NOT: Using NOT tells the database to exclude that term or concept. Again, this is something you might use if there related concepts or the word is used in a different way in a different context.
    • For example, you could search for: Psychology NOT Cognitive



Let's say you want to focus on children for your topic, but you know that there are different forms of that word that would work to find resources that you want. After learning about AND you may be tempted to do this: children AND child AND childs.

But you don't need to do that thanks to truncation!

Truncation is expressed with an asterisk (*) so if you want the database to give you results with multiple forms of a word use put an asterisk where the words are the same, or at the root of the word. 

So for many forms of children, you would search for child*.

What to try when you're stuck

Using synonyms

One of the first snags you might encounter is when you're selecting what keywords you try using to find resources.

When you're doing research on a topic, the words you use to describe something can change depending on the context. There can be subject-specific ways to express an idea or a concept. 

Ask yourself, is there another way I can say this? Is there specialized language that I should try?

If you get stuck, try using a thesaurus. 

Topic broadening and narrowing


You've tried a bunch of different keywords and you're getting either too many results, not enough, or maybe even no results!

It's possible that the keywords you're using are either too broad or too specific. Consider adding or removing keywords. 

If you're getting too many results, here are different ways you can narrow down your topic. Think of:

  • Who?
    • can you look at a specific group of people? 
    • You're interested in voting. How about voting and first-time voters, voting and 65+, voting and Americans, etc.
  • What?
    • can you pick a specific example? 
    • What about voting? the philosophy of voting, the history of voting, the ritual of voting, etc.
  • When?
    • can you focus on a smaller time period? the 60s, the Great Depression, the last 10 years?
    • Voting during what time period? Voting during the 60s, voting during the Great Depression, voting in the last two elections.
  • Where?
    • can you focus on a location?
    • Voting in the U.S., voting in California, voting in San Diego.

Research is a cycle

You might do all the above things and still not get results that you find useful. Just know:

  • research is a process, you need to adjust your research topic and keywords as you go. 
  • there is no perfect resource.
  • it's normal to feel overwhelmed or lost, just remember to take a step away and come back to it later.