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Library 101: Introduction to Research: Constructing Searches

Developing Keywords

Before leaving this page, you should:

  • Go through the Generating Keywords PowerPoint. (3 minutes)
  • Look over the examples of Boolean Operators on the right column of this page. (3 minutes)
  • Read the definition and tips for broadening or narrowing your topic below the PowerPoint. (2 minutes)

Generating Keywords

Click through this Powerpoint presentation in order to learn how to develop keywords to search a database.

Broad/Narrow Definition

As you start searching for your topic, you might realize that your topic is too broad or too narrow. It is important to be flexible on your topic.

Broad Topics

Broad topic example: My paper is on psychological disorders.

This topic is too broad, which means you will find too much in the database on your topic. It will be hard to focus your paper. You will have to narrow it down.

Narrowing Chart

General topic: Psychological disorders
Time span: Last 5 years, historical, current, etc.
Place: United States, urban, rural, North Carolina, etc.
Person/Group: Youth, college age, elderly, certain race or ethnicity, etc.
Aspects: Effects on family, effects on individual, sociological, etc.

Narrowed topic: What is the effect of children with ADHD on their families in rural North Carolina?

Narrow Topics

Narrow topic example: What is the effect of Red Cross blood drives on adults with hemophilia in the town of Farmville, NC?

This topic is too narrow, which means you will not find enough in the database on your topic. There may not be studies that look at Farmville, or there may not be many hemophiliacs in the town. Unless you plan to do a study yourself, you will have to broaden it.

Broadening Chart

Specific topic: What is the effect of Red Cross blood drives on adults with hemophilia in the town of Farmville, NC?
Alternate Focus: Remove Red Cross, blood donation process, sociological impacts
Alternate Place: rural North Carolina, southeast United States, etc.
Person/Group: car accident victims, cancer patients, etc.
Aspects: Donors, blood types, use of blood in hospitals, etc.

Broadened topic: What is the effect of blood drives in the southeast United States?


Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators AND, OR, and NOT connect each keyword and/or keyword phrase in a statement such as: What is the relationship between United States intelligence operations and counterterrorism?

In the following examples, circles and areas in the Venn Diagrams that appear purple are returned as search results by the database.

Using the AND Operator

Use AND to narrow a search strategy and to look for two or more terms in your result.

Example: United States AND counterterrorism

Using the OR Operator

Use OR to broaden a search and to find either or both concepts in the result.

Example: counterterrorism OR counter terrorism

In this case, every article with either "counter terrorism" or "counterterrorism" is returned in the list of results.

Using the NOT Operator

Use NOT before a term to exclude it from your result.

Example: intelligence NOT IQ

In this case, only articles with the subject of intelligence are returned in the search, but those dealing with IQ are not returned.

Using Nesting with Operators

Use nesting to build a more complex search by putting keywords and/or phrases in parentheses to determine their relationship when more than one operator is used.


(United States AND intelligence) AND (counterterrorism OR counter terrorism)

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