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Resources and tips for history and historic preservation students

Getting Your Search Started

The first step you need to take in your research is to express your research interest in a clear question or statement - for our example, we'll be looking for information on Italian immigration to America.

The next step is to take this search question and break it into its main ideas - usually just a few key components or concepts. In this case, we're looking at Italian, immigration, and America.

Then, you should consider related terms that would also describe your search terms: (Italian or Florence or Naples) and (immigration) and (American or United States or US)

Finally, add any special features, such as truncation or proximity searching, to your search.: (Ital* or Florence or Naples) and (immigra*) and (American or United States or US)

Considering Key Words

When searching, keep in mind that there may be many ways to describe similar concepts. Consider the research on Italian immigration to America. In addition to searching for information on Italian, immigration, and America, there are other search terms that mean the same or similar things, which would help broaden your search.

When brainstorming additional key words, you might think from a narrow to broader concepts, or broad to narrower concepts. Besides Italy, you might think of specific regions within Italy where immigrants may have come from, and include cities and regions such as Florence or Sicily in your search terms. When considering America, you might think of other words we use to describe America, such as the United States or US. You may also decide to focus on a specific area where immigrants may have landed, such as Ellis Island, New York, or even Baltimore!

One way to help you brainstorm is to imagine the title of the perfect article for your research topic. Think about words that would be in the title and the abstract of that article, and be sure to include those words in your searches.

Phrase Searching

Don't get trapped by phrase searching! Many databases, such as the EBSCO databases, will search for the exact words you use, in the same order and tense you've entered them. In these databases, searching for information on Italian immigrants won't bring you articles about immigrants from Italy. This is why it's so important to break your research question into smaller key concepts and main ideas.

To combine these topics, you want to use search connectors, as seen in the first box on this page. Similar terms can be grouped together in parenthesis using the search term "or", which tells the database to look for articles with either term A or term B. Your main concepts should be connected using "and", which tells the database you want articles with both term A and term B.

Special Features

One way to broaden your search and find more information on your topic is to use wildcards or truncation in your searches. For example, if you replace immigrants with immigra* in your search fields, you'll find articles on immigrant, immigrants and immigration. Some databases, such as JSTOR, allow for internal truncation, so wom?n will search for woman and women. (In some databases, you'll need to use an exclamation point instead of an asterisk; check our Databases Help Guide for more.)

Many databases allow for proximity searching, meaning you can tell the database to search for immigrants within a certain number of words of Italian. You are generally able to combine truncation with proximity searching. For example, in EBSCO databases, the terms would be immigra* n3 Italian; in LexisNexis, the terms would be immigra! w/3 Italian.

Don't forget that Goucher College's Library subscribes to approximately 100 databases! Just because you can't access full text in one database doesn't mean that it's no available in another. Most databases have a link allowing you to "Check for full text" access - clicking on that link will search the library's other databases, and bring back a link to full text if it's available in another database. If the library doesn't subscribe to a particular journal or periodical, you can also use our Interlibrary Loan service to obtain a copy from another library - find out more on our Interlibrary Loan Service page.

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