The first step is to determine keywords that sum up the main concepts of your topic. Keywords are typically nouns or noun phrases. If you phrase your topic as a research question or thesis, you can often pull keywords from the topic sentence.
Example topic: How did the portrayal of African-Americans in musical films change over time?
Sometimes the keywords from your original topic sentence will not produce the types of results you want. When that happens, try to think of related keywords. These can be other words that have similar meanings, words that are broader (good for when you have too few results), or words that are more specific (good for when you have too many results).
Example related keywords:
Similar: blacks, musical cinema, role
Broader: minorities, movies, scripts
Narrower: african american women, rock musicals, music
Truncation (shortening your keyword) makes the database look at other possible forms of a word for which you are searching. Use truncation to find plurals and variations on the endings of a word. To truncate, use the asterisk symbol: *. You can enter this symbol by pressing Shift and 8 on the keyboard at the same time or by pressing the asterisk symbol on the number pad.
To find an exact phrase (i.e., words in a row in an exact order), enclose the phrase in quotation marks.
Combine keywords by putting the word AND between them. This requires that both keywords be present in the database's search results. Entries that include keywords connected by AND are referred to as search statements.
Example Search Statements using AND:
Note: If you use the Advanced Search feature of a database, AND is the default connector between the entry boxes:
In cases where two keywords are equally good, and you don't need to have both of them, you can connect them using OR. This will require that only one of the two keywords be present in the results. To make sure these are not mixed up with any uses of AND in a search statement, enclose uses of OR in parentheses.
Example Search Statements Using OR: