When you enter your search terms into a database or search engine, they will generally be matched to words in the title, subjects, descriptions, or abstracts of a source. Thus, you want to think of words that might appear in the title, subjects, descriptions, or abstracts.
Brainstorm words that encompass each of the unique concepts in your research topic or question. Focus on nouns and some adjectives. Omit other words.
Sometimes it's difficult to think of keywords for your topic. The easiest way to think of keywords is to start searching and do a little bit of reading about it and you'll start to find a lot of keywords that you can use.
Native American boarding schools in the Pacific Northwest
Different sources might call the same concept by a different name. For example, one source might refer to the Pacific Northwest, while another source might refer to a specific state or locality. Thus, it would be good to think of similar terms or synonyms for each of your unique concepts.
Synonyms for each unique concept:
Native Americans: American Indians, Indigenous American, First Nations
Boarding schools: residential schools, Indian schools, Indian boarding schools
Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia
Basic Search Strategies
You can search using simple combinations of your search terms such as the following:
Indian boarding schools Pacific Northwest
Residential schools Pacific Northwest
Indian schools Oregon
Indian boarding schools Oregon
Make sure to try more than one combination because you will often find that different combinations bring up different search results.
Advanced Search Strategies
You can also use Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) to make your search strings more precise. Here's how:
Connect your synonyms with OR:
Native Americans OR American Indians OR Indigenous American OR First Nations
boarding schools OR residential schools OR Indian schools OR Indian boarding schools
Pacific Northwest OR Oregon OR Washington OR Idaho OR British Columbia
When you connect your search terms with OR, you are asking the database to bring you search results that have any of those search terms. For the example above, the second line would bring you search results that are related to any of these search terms: boarding schools, residential schools, Indian schools, Indian boarding schools. This would be helpful if one source referred to these schools as Indian boarding schools while another source referred to them as residential schools. This way, both of those sources would appear in your search results. This is a way to make sure you're not missing relevant results.
Put parentheses around the synonyms connected by OR for each unique concept and then connect each group with AND:
(Native Americans OR American Indians OR Indigenous American OR First Nations) AND (boarding schools OR residential schools OR Indian schools OR Indian boarding schools) AND (Pacific Northwest OR Oregon OR Washington OR Idaho OR British Columbia)
This is where you're trying to focus your search results so you're only getting search results that are on your specific topic. When you connect search results with AND, such as residential schools AND Oregon, the database will bring you results related to both of those search terms. This means that your search results should be related to residential boarding schools in Oregon. In our example above, we're connecting each of our unique concept groups with AND. Ideally, we should get search results that are related to any of the keywords in the first group related to Native Americans, any of the keywords in the second group related to boarding schools, and also any of the keywords in the third group relating to the Pacific Northwest. Ideally, our search results should be on our topic of Native American boarding schools in the Pacific Northwest.
Try It Out and Adjust
Now paste your search string into a database, such as the Library Search Box and see how relevant your search results are.
Tip: Sometimes it's difficult to get the right combination of search terms. Keep trying different combinations until you find relevant search results. Also, remember that you can learn even more in the videos above or ask a librarian for help with this -- we're here for you!
Finding Keywords for Your Searches
How to Search Specialized Databases
How to Use the Library Search Box
Search Effectively Using Keywords
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