TH301 - History of Costume and Décor: Searching Tips

Advanced Search Techniques

1. Keywords, Broader terms, Narrower terms

Use a variety of keywords to describe your topic. If you begin your research by using reference materials such as encyclopedias, you will often run across vocabulary to describe your topic that you may not have thought of on your own. 

  • global warming or climate change
  • alternative fuel, ethanol, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, emissions
You should remove all "stop words" from your search. Stop words include articles, prepositions, or essentially any word that is not a crucial, meaningful word. 

2. Use quotation marks for phrase searching
  • "war on drugs"
  • "interpersonal relationship*"
3. Use truncation to get the database to search for a root word plus any possible endings
  • theat*  theater, theatre, theaters, theatres, theatrical
  • psycholog* psychology, psychological, psychologist
4. Use AND, OR, and NOT to combine your search terms
  • (theat* OR drama) AND "stage design"
  • "war on drugs" AND Mexico AND United States
  • dolphins NOT football

Q & A

Here are some questions that came from students like you.

Q: How do I find key words that will help me the most? Process of elimination?

A: Try getting some background information about your topic first by using CQ Researcher or an online/print encyclopedia. As you read through a broad overview of your topic, start making a list of the words that are used. Sometimes you'll run across other search terms that you may not have thought of.

An example:

  • hydrogen car*
  • hydrogen automobile*
  • fuel-cell technolog*
  • fuel-cell*
  • renewable fuel*
  • alternative energy and (car* or automobile*)

Q: What do you think is the best way to weed through results about your topic and narrow it down to the best ten?

A: Interesting question, and a challenging process at times. There are some standard ways to narrow down results. You can specify a time-frame (only the last few years, or a specific date range). You can narrow results to a specific location (United States, Colorado, etc.). Sometimes the databases build in ways to narrow your results. For example, in Academic Search Premier, you can look at the left-hand column for a variety of ways to refine your the type of publication, a subject area, etc. Often times if you perform a "Subject" search, you will get fewer, and more precise results as well.

Always keep in mind that the number of results is not the true measure of research success. You want to find the right mix of articles that address the key issues you are trying to write about. Also, the currency of the information you find is important. Choose the articles that answer the questions you set out to answer and you'll be in good shape.