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Waidner-Spahr Library

From Babble to Babel - Duperron FYS: Search Strategies

Keyword Searching

You can use your topic or research question to generate keywords.

For example:

Topic: Role of women in post-colonial Senegal as depicted in the film ''Faat Kine.''

Search: Women AND Senegal
Search: Women AND Africa

Search: Women AND Faat Kine
Search: Women AND Africa AND Film

Topic: Landscape in the work of Petrach

Search: Petrarch AND Landscape
Search: Italian Landscape AND Literature
Search: Nature AND Petrarch

Choosing Keywords


Developing a list of keywords for your project is vital for your research, for your note taking and for shaping your final paper. A keyword is simply an important word or short phrase relating to your research. Keywords can be a person's name, a place, an organization or a subject. You can often use keywords to conduct a search of the library's catalog, databases, and JumpStart. As you begin to research your topic, you will discover additional keywords that describe your subject. Some words may no longer be in popular use ("Great War" for World War I), but may at one time have been standard. Such words or phrases will be important if you attempt to find older resources.

As you search and find new materials, keep track of words and phrases that appear in titles or in the subject fields of books or articles.  They can serve as new keywords to use as you search.  It also may be helpful to consult a thesaurus for additional help in brainstorming keywords.

Expanding or Narrowing Your Search

Words such as AND, OR, and NOT are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow a search in an electronic database.

  • AND will narrow your search; for example, the search "cats AND dogs" returns items that contain both the terms cats and dogs (both terms must appear in the record).
  • OR will broaden your search; for example, the search "cats OR dogs" will return items that contain either the term cat or the term dog - but not necessarily both.
  • NOT will exclude specific items, thereby narrowing your search. For example, the search "cats NOT dogs"" will exclude any books, articles, films, or other materials that mention dogs, but will include any other information concerning cats.

Choosing Search Terms

Choosing the Best Terms for Your Search

Click the image to open the tutorial in a new browser window. 

What is a Subject Heading?

A subject heading is a specific word or phrase used to find and organize books and articles by topic. Subject headings can be a great way to easily find things related directly to your topic.  Once you have identified a book or article that is worthwhile, look at the subject headings.  In the online catalog these are found in the "catalog record" and you can click directly on the subject heading to get a list of books on the same subject.

Subject headings are different from keywords in that they are specific terms assigned to a subject by an organization. For example, the Library of Congress supplies subject headings for books owned by Dickinson College (and other libraries), and the company that provides Web of Science supplies subject headings for the articles indexed in that database.

These subject headings, also known as subject descriptors, may not be what you would expect. You might, for instance, go to our catalog and search for autobiographies and Nobel Prize winner, but the Library of Congress uses the term Personal Narrative instead of autobiography.  If you fail to search using the term "personal narrative," you may miss some useful items.

Subject headings can often be found on the page of a book that provides the publisher's information, or at or near the bottom of the page of an online record of a book or article. The subject heading can be used to search for related books or articles when copied exactly as printed.

In the library catalog and many databases, an items's subject(s) will be a link, so that you can click on the subject heading to find similar items. You also might want to note the exact words to search them as a keyword later.

This is an example of a book in the library catalog with numerous subject headings:

Shakespeare on the Screen : Kenneth Branagh's Adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet / Tanja Weiss

PR3093 .W45 1999

Publication info: Frankfurt am Main ; New York : P. Lang, c1999.

Physical description: 210 p. : ill. ; 21 cm.

Series: (European university studies. Series XXX, Theatre, Film and television,ISSN0721-3662 ; vol. 75 = Europäische Hochschulschriften. Reihe XXX, Theater-, Film- und Fernsehwissenschaften ; Bd. 75) Bibliography note: Filmography: p. 195-197.

Bibliography note: Includes bibliographical references (p. 205-210).

Personal subject: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 Film and video adaptations.

Personal subject: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Much ado about nothing.

Personal subject: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Henry V.

Personal subject: Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Hamlet.

Personal subject: Branagh, Kenneth.

Subject: English drama Film and video adaptations.

Series: Europäische Hochschulschriften. Reihe XXX, Theater-, Film- und Fernsehwissenschaften ; Bd. 75.

ISBN: 3631339275

Using Subject Headings

Subject headings are important because you can use them to find similar information more efficiently.  Since they are the way a database or catalog defines a topic, searching by subject can be a more precise way to find the information you are looking for.  Also in many search tools subject headings are displayed as links so you can click on them and get more books or articles on that specific topic.

For more help using subject headings, ask a librarian.