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English 1100 - English Composition - Fall, 2022: Searching Effectively

Tips to help with researching a topic for compositions


Template copied and used with permission from Amy Barker at Kennesaw State University.

SearchUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: How do Native American mascots in sports maintain and reinforce racial stereotypes?

The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need the most essential components.

Keywords: Native Americans, sports mascots, racial stereotypes

Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!


Keyword: Native American   Synonyms: American Indian, Native People


Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

example database tools locationMost library databases have search tools built in. Try some of these:

  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!


You can evaluate any source using the 5 W's:

  • Who: ...wrote it? Are they an expert?
  • What: the purpose of this resource?
  • Where: ...was this information published? ...does the information come from?
  • When: ...was this published or last updated?
  • Why: this resource useful? this resource better than other ones?

Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

sports mascots AND racial stereotypes

This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.


                            Use the operator OR to expand your search with additional keywords.

racial stereotypes OR prejudice

This search will bring back more results because sources include either word.

                            Use “QUOTES” around an individual term or phrase for an exact match.

"Native American"

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.


Need Fast Results? Use a Search String

Example: How do Native American mascots in sports maintain and reinforce racial stereotypes?

Consider combining AND, OR and "Quotes" into one search string. Bundle synonym concepts within parentheses.

  • Combine synonyms using the OR operator and bundle concepts within parentheses as a search term
    • e.g. Concept 1:  (Native Americans OR American Indian)
    • e.g. Concept 2:  (Racial Stereotype OR Prejudice)
  • Join bundled concepts with AND
    • (Native Americans OR American Indian)  AND (Racial Stereotype OR Prejudice)
  • Join bundled concepts with quoted term(s).
    • e.g. (Native Americans OR American Indian) AND (Racial Stereotype OR Prejudice) AND "sports mascots"

The Search String can be placed altogether in one search bar or broken apart using Advanced Search shown in above example.