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ENG/HST/HUM/REL 492: Search Tips

Senior Thesis Prep

Search Tips

Problem: I typed my research question into the database, but I didn't get any results!


  • Write down your topic in a sentence or question format.
  • Break your topic into the various concepts (single words or short phrases) that make up your question. Write down those terms.
  • Brainstorm synonyms for the terms in your research question.
  • Think of what terms experts in that particular field would use to describe that topic and write down those also.
  • Construct your search using combinations of the terms you brainstormed and add AND, OR and NOT between those terms (instructions on the next tab).


  • For example, "What are the most effective training techniques for a half marathon?"
    • main concepts: training, half marathon
    • synonyms & related terms: conditioning, long-distance running, weight lifting, injury prevention, endurance
    • Example search: (training OR conditioning) AND (half marathon OR long-distance running)

Increase the effectiveness of your searches by using AND, OR or NOT between search terms.

  • Use AND between search terms when you would like to find articles that contain ALL of your search words.  Using AND decreases the number of articles returned by the database.
    • For example: training AND half marathon
  • Use OR between search terms that are synonyms or similar concepts. Using OR increases the number of articles returned by the database. When using OR, type parentheses around those similar terms.
    • For example: (half marathon OR long-distance running)
  • Use NOT to exclude certain search terms. NOT is useful when you don't want certain types of articles to appear in your results.
    • For example: training AND half marathon NOT psychology (to exclude articles that address the mental aspects of training)

Problem: I tried various keywords I brainstormed, but the articles don't seem relevant to my topic.


  • Try searching using the subject terms assigned to an article that IS relevant (or close).
  • In your list of books or articles, look for the Subjects field beneath the citation information in a database or OneSearch.
  • Choose terms that match your topic most closely and enter them in the search boxes.
    • Start with just a couple of terms and add more, if needed, to narrow results.
  • Get too many results?
    • Next to the search boxes look for a drop down menu (e.g. Any field in OneSearch) and choose Subject. This will ensure you are searching for the terms you entered in the Subject field of the article or book record.

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