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ENG L506: Introduction to Methods of Criticism and Research

A library research guide for the English L506 course

Start with a Strategy

To find materials efficiently, you will need to have a search strategy in mind as well as some skills in using databases and other search interfaces. This page will help you figure out the building blocks (keywords) and the techniques (Boolean searching, phrase searching, etc.) to build your strategy. Keep in mind a big picture of where you need to search (what field/discipline are you working in?), as well as a detailed knowledge of the tool you choose to search with (Google Scholar, MLA International Bibliography, etc.). If you're not familiar with keywords or phrase searching, check out the link to the Start Your Research Tutorial below. If you need to know more about a particular resource, look for a tutorial online or a help menu within the database. And, as always, if you get stuck, you can contact me (your librarian).

Search Strategies for Databases

Before you start entering any search terms, spend a few minutes trying to think of as many relevant terms and combinations of terms as you can. This will help you to avoid getting stuck in a rut with the first terms that come to mind.

If you need help in coming up with terms, you may want to try the "Thesaurus" or "Subject Headings" features in the database you've chosen.

Check out the "Help" or "Search Tips" to learn some of the search features specific to that database. Most databases provide similar features, but the methods may vary. Some common tricks:

  • truncation = To use truncation, enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with an * (asterisk). For example, type comput* to find the words computes, computer, computing or computational.
  • searching a phrase = Typically, when a phrase is enclosed by double quotations marks, the exact phrase is searched. For example, "employee retention" searches for the two words as a phrase.
  • Boolean terms (AND, OR, NOT) = Use these terms to connect your keywords. They work best in all capital letters:
    • AND combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, travel AND Europe finds articles that contain both travel and Europe.
    • OR combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, college OR university finds results that contain either college or university.
    • NOT excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, television NOT cable finds results that contain television but not cable.
  • Putting it all together: You can combine these Boolean terms with truncation and phrase searching to create powerful search statements. For example, if you are interested in what motivates students in higher education, you might try a search that looks like: (college* OR universit* OR "higher education") AND (student* OR undergraduate* OR "graduate student*") AND motivat*

Try the databases' Advanced Search feature, which usually gives you the ability to search multiple fields (author, title, keyword, subject, etc) with one search and may offer additional ways to expand or limit your search.

If your first search strategy does not work, try another approach. Remember that you can also get help from the library. Check out the links below.

Search Tutorials

If you are new to library research or just want to refresh your skills, here are some resources:


If you are looking for more advanced search help in a particular resource or database, look for a Help Menu within that resource. Check YouTube as well for both publisher-, library-, or user-created tutorials. For example, see the video below about the Advanced Search in Project MUSE. I'm also including a link to the MLA International Bibliography YouTube channel below. Of course, you can also reach out to me, your librarian, for a consultation.