Skip to Main Content

HST 302: History and Memory (Nebiolo)

#1 Finding Good Search Terms

  • Use terms found in your background reading on the subject
  • Ask other people in the field for terms used to describe your topic 
  • Use the Thesaurus or Subject Terms listings, if available, in the databases you are searching (example)
  • When you find a record for an item that is useful to you, look at its subject headings or descriptors for more ideas (example)

#2 Using Your Search Terms

If your search terms are more than single worlds, use quotation marks to show that you want the terms to be found together. The search will look for exactly what you place in the quotation marks, so be sure there are no mistakes.

Search for Adam Smith = 38,700,000 results

Search for "Adam Smith" = 2,730,000 results

Search for theory of relativity = 3,430,000 results

Search for "theory of relativity" = 856,000 results

Venn diagram highlighting the area of overlap between the two circles.

Combining search terms with AND will:

  • Reduce the number of results
  • Make the search focus more specifically on your topic

Search for "college student"  = 1.2 billion results 

Search for politics = 296 million resultsAdvanced search examples show how to select AND to connect multiple search terms

Search for "college student" AND politics = 43 million results more focused on your topic

Search for "college student" AND politics AND "2008 election" = 543,000 more relevant results

Combining search terms with OR will:

  • Expand your search and increase number of results
  • Give your search flexibility to find alternate terms

Search for film  = 601,786 resultsEBSCO search for movie or film

Search for movie = 199,781 results 

Search for film OR movie  = 642,906 results that mention either film or movie, or both

Search for "middle school" = 21,401 results that mention "middle school"EBSCO search for "middle school" or "junior high"

Search for "junior high" = 7,261 results

Search for "middle school" OR "junior high" = 28,177 results that mention either "middle school" or "junior high", or both

Combining search terms with NOT will:

  • Decrease your search results
  • Increase the relevancy of your results by telling the search to exclude certain terms

Search for "Hunger Games"  = 745 results Demonstrates the advanced search "Not" feature of EBSCO

Search for "Hunger Games" NOT movie = 487 results 


Search for cloning = 42,736 resultsBasic EBSCO search bar: cloning NOT human

Search for cloning NOT human = 30,325 results

Truncation is a way of giving your search tool flexibility to find alternate endings for your search term.

Why it's helpful:  Search engines match your terms to results; they will not find an alternate version of your term. Truncation tells the search to match the root of your term and gives it freedom to find whatever endings it can.

Truncation symbols include question mark, number sign, asterisk, and exclamation point.


  • Gene! will bring back gene, genes, genetic, genetics, genetically, general, generally, etc
  • Liv* will bring back results for live, lives, lively, livelihood, liver, livery, etc
  • Child$ will bring back child, children, childhood, etc

How to do it:  Shorten your search term to its base or root form. Then add a truncation symbol to the end of your term. Note: truncation symbols vary by search tool.

Truncation Symbols by adstarkel. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

#3 Using Search Tool Features

Often, these features are easiest to use (or only available in) the Advanced Search option. (example)

  • Try searching only the Abstract, or even the Title field, rather than the whole item - usually with Advanced Search (searching the Abstract for the term "study" can often lead to research studies)
  • Try searching by Subject, rather than by Keyword (or by a combination of Subjects and Keywords or other fields) [For help with Subjects, see this e-book]  
  • Use other limiters, if appropriate, such as only a specific type of publication (Peer Reviewed, for example) or only a specific time period

 screenshot of an advanced search    

Most search tools have ways to limit the results list and the options are often on the left side of the results page.  Limiters usually include date ranges, topics, languages, authors, and formats.

detail of the Butler Libraries catalog search page showing different search facets and limiters on the left side navigation bar, for example: library, format, date, author, subject, or language

#4 Using Leads and Clues

  • Look at the bibliographies of items that are closely related to your topic. Sometimes they will be called "References" or "Works Cited."  You can often find sources that may be very helpful or may in turn lead you to useful sources.  (example)
  • To find newer sources that reference an item you found, many databases include a "Cited By" section. Google Scholar lists the link directly under each entry on the results page. (example)
  • When you find a helpful item, look at its subject terms and try a subject search using those terms. (example)

#5 General Life Skills That Are Also Applicable To Searching

  • Check your search to see if you entered it and spelled it as you intended

  • Take a break and try again later

  • Ask for help

  • Read the "instructions"

    • Check to see if the database you are searching is appropriate for your topic.  Information about the database can usually found by clicking an i or About or similar button or tab. (example)  With EBSCO databases, click on Choose Databases and then Detailed View for this info (example)

    • Check the Help feature or Search Tips (or sometimes it will be a ?) to see if you are entering your searches correctly for that database (example) 

  • Your skills will improve with practice - especially if you pay attention to what works in different situations

Last-minute reminders:


What you put into the search box matters quite a bit. Here are some tips:

  • Use nouns whenever possible. Adjectives and verbs can be tricky
  • If you're using phrases, put them in "quotation marks" to tell the search to find the words together, in that order
  • Explore alternate terms and synonyms. For example - freedom: independence, self-governance, self-determination, etc.

Finding Too Much? 

  • Be more specific with your topic. For example - "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" instead of Holocaust
  • Narrow down: include a group of people, geography, time span, or scope in your search

Keep a search log with your group so you can know who's searched where, for what terms.

Save your sources so you have access to any citation information later, but be sure to save more than just browser URLs! Those can break and leave you stranded with no way to get back to the source. Titles, authors, databases, permalinks -- all very helpful.

Google Tricks:

A Google search can help you find additional primary sources. Try this trick:

  • Add "" before or after your search term to limit to university resources, like LibGuides or university library collections.
  • Add "" before or after your search term to limit to U.S. government resources. You can also add .eu for European resources, or look up the domain for any particular country.
  • Add "" before or after your search term to limit to organization sites. Note: not all organizations are credible!! However, many museums use this domain.
  • You can also search a specific site using this. 
    • For example, searching " puppies" will return images of puppies on

Trying searching Google Scholar, rather than just Google to find focused results within scholarly literature.

Use a wildcard in your search:

  • The asterisk * in Google functions as a wildcard, it tells Google to fill-in-the-blank on entire words in a phrase.
    • Example: Searching * of money returns results that include the phrases "Velocity of money" "Value of money" "History of money" "Function of money" and more.
  • If you want to Google to fill-in-the-blank for just a letter in a word, use a period.
    • Example: searching wom.n returns results for woman, women, womxn, womyn, wom*n, and more.



Email Butler University Libraries
Irwin Library: 317-940-9227
Science Library: 317-940-9937

Like us on FacebookInstagramFollow us on Twitter