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History Research: Search Tips

Why You Need a Search Strategy

decorative image   The library catalog and databases work differently than search engines like Google and Bing.   decorative image

They won't correct spelling errors. They don't respond well to long search phrases because they do not search the full text of a website. Follow the tips on this page to get the best results from our library tools.

Basic Search Tips

Brainstorm Keywords

  • Use encyclopedias, internet searches, and your own brain to develop a list of terms to search. If your first search attempt doesn't match a lot of results, you'll be able to quickly try a new keyword. If your topic is hydraulic fracturing be ready to search its synonym, fracking.

Short But Sweet

  • Don't enter long phrases. Use only the most important keywords. A research topic like "the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment" should break down to a search for "hydraulic fracturing" and "environment".

Phrase Searching

  • Keep specific phrases together by using quotation marks. A search for "hydraulic fracturing" will only find those words together in that order. It will not match the words hydraulic or fracturing separately.

Truncation (aka wildcards)

  • Use an * to search for multiple word endings: A search for environment* will match results with the words environment, environmental and environmentalism.

Boolean Operators (Video Tutorial)

Video created by Lexy Spry & Emily Wixson, Chemistry Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2008.

Tips for Searching with Boolean Operators

Time Saving Tip

Here are bonus tips that will help you use Boolean Operators to make a search for sources more effective:

  • Enter a short search term in each line
  • If you use AND to connect too many search terms you won't get any results - if that happens, remove the least important search term.
  • Type OR between synonyms in one line of a search box

Find a Book on the Shelves

To find a print book, first identify the correct section of the library by checking the location of the book. Most books are in the "Main Collection" which is on the 3rd floor.

Reading LC Call Numbers

Books sorted in correct order by call number. The book described in the text below has call number N66 .B634 1999

  • N - describes the subject area: read in alphabetical order
  • 66 -  describes the topic: read as a whole number
  • .B634 - describes the author's last name: read in alphabetical order, then the number as a decimal
  • 1999  - date of publication: read in chronological order

If you are unable to locate the book or the book is missing, ask for help at the Circulation Desk.