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Guidance: Keyword Searching

Identify Keywords

The words you type into the search box affect your search results. Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try a variety of searches.

  • Create a list of possible words that could appear in a book or article related to your topic.
  • Come up with synonyms or related terms for those.
  • If you're researching a topic from an historical point of view, it may also be helpful to come up with historical terms that may be pejorative today.
  • Stick to using 2-4 concepts when searching.

Research 101: Searching is Strategic

Anna Eisen (3:14)



Here's an example of a mindmap. The student used colors to organize her ideas: red is the idea she started with, green are broader concepts, black are subtopics.  She put a red star on the topic she decided to focus on.

example of brainstorming for global warming

Attribution: Clark College Brainstorming LibGuide located at

Selecting and Using Keywords

University of West Florida, John C. Pace Library, (3:50)

Setting Up a Successful Search - This has UC Merced-specific content, but I'd like to adapt it when we can (LD).

There are a number of ways you can combine your keywords. You can also search for phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks. Expand your search by looking for different forms of words using truncation.

Boolean Operators Phrase Searching Truncation

AND narrows searches and is used to join dissimilar terms.

OR broadens searches and is used to join similar terms.

You can use AND and OR together.


  • "solar panels" AND efficiency
  • social media OR Snapchat
  • ("electric car" OR "electric vehicle") AND infrastructure

To search for specific phrases, enclose them in quotation marks. The database will search for those words together in that order.


  • "people of color"
  • "social media"
  • "Arab Spring

Truncate a word in order to search for different forms of the same word. Many databases use the asterisk * as the truncation symbol.


  • wom*n = women, woman, womxn, etc. 
  • Latin* = Latin, Latinidad, Latina, Latinas, Latino, Latinos, Latinx, etc. 
  • film* = film, films, filming, filmmaker, filmmakers, filmmaking, etc. 

Many databases tag citations with hyperlinked subjects intended to help you identify relevant sources. Think of subject terms and headings as hashtags that can point you to more sources with the same tags. Click on one to discover other similarly tagged items or use the headings to give you ideas for terms you can try in a keyword search.

Melvyl PubMed PsycINFO Academic Search Complete

When you find a useful book in Melvyl, the library catalog, look at the record's Library of Congress Subject Headings.


The subject headings for the book Pushout: The Criminalzation of Black Girls in Schools are:

PubMed uses the Medical Subject Headings for its subject terms.

PubMed automatically maps your terms to existing MeSH terms.

You can also look up terms in PubMed by changing the search to MeSH in the dropdown menu.


The MeSH for childhood obesity is pediatric obesity.


PsycINFO uses the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms for its subject terms.

In PsycINFO (ProQuest), you can also look up terms. In the database, find Thesaurus at the top of the window.


In Academic Search Complete, you can also look up terms. In the database, find Subject Terms at the top of the window.


Date Limiters

Fields & Filters / Limiters

Times Cited / Cited By

Most databases let you limit citations by the Date of Publication.

Historical Abstracts is an exception. Look for the Historical Period section on the main search page in Historical Abstracts to limit by era in which an event took place.

The sort default is often Relevance, though the science databases often defer to Most Recent. Especially with large results list, you may wish to sort by Relevance and then limit by Date.

Databases normally include fields and filters to help you narrow your results.

Use fields to target where you want to search for your terms, e.g. in the title, in the abstract, in full-text etc.

Use filters to exclude items from your search results.


Click this link to see what fields were searched (top) & what filters are available (left side) in Academic Search Complete.

Web of Science & Google Scholar are examples of databases that provide the number of times an article has been cited and who has cited it.




Sometimes, rather than searching for information on a topic, you might be interested in looking for a specific article. There are a few ways you can find items based on a citation.

Article Level Strategies Journal Level Strategies
  • Look for the article title in Google Scholar. For full-text, try clicking on the article title or look under >> for UC-eLinks.
  • Look for the article title in Melvyl. Look for the UC-eLinks button.
  • Look in regular Google. You may be able to find on the web IF someone has posted it.

Look for the journal title in the eJournal finder. Search for the journal title in the Journals tab on the library home page search box. See if the journal is available. Is the date you need available? If so, drill down to the correct volume and issue number.


Discover how to locate a known article through Google Scholar or Melvyl (UC Merced Library, 1:52).