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MSCH F306 Writing Media Criticism

Branstorm Keywords

Experiment with keywords and related terms relevant to your topic. (Remember databases generally include more formal language.)

concept map like this one can help in generating search terms. 


Too Few Results?

Don't give up! Reassess your search strategy.

Possible Reasons:

1. Choice of Search terms
Choosing the right search terms is key.

  • Experiment with related terms.
  • In databases Subject Terms can help you identify keywords.
  • Use OR to search for multiple related terms simultaneously. (e.g., policy OR law)

2. Too Many Search Terms
Database can be picky about search terms. Be selective.

  • Begin with one of two search terms that best represent your topic. Then add other terms as needed.
  • Avoid long phrases and empty words like “the” and “how.”

3. Too Many Limiters
If you limited the search (e.g., by date or search field) remove limiters and reassess.

4. Narrow Topic
Highly specific topics may be too narrow for finding results. Try a broader related topic first. 


  • Narrow search: Bloomington Indiana AND environmental policy
  • Broader search: United States AND state government AND environmental policy

5. Database Choice
Different databases focus on different topics. View Resources by Subject or Ask a Librarian.

Too Many Results?

1. Add additional keywords.

  • TIP: In databases Subject Terms can help you identify more narrow topics and keywords.

2. Choose more narrow search terms.


  • Broader term: law
  • Narrower term: "environmental law"

3. Use limiters. (e.g., search fields like title or abstract, publication date, format type).

   In OneSearch see options under Refine Search.

4. Search for a short phrase with quotation marks. 


  • "environmental law"
  • "environmental justice"

Phrase searching

Use quotation marks or parentheses around search words to search for a phrase. (Otherwise most databases will find records that include both terms, but not necessary the terms as a phrase.)


"middle east"
"united nations peacekeeping forces"
"civil society"

Adapted from SAIS Library, Johns Hopkins Univ. "Database Search Tips" Guide

Boolean Operators

Use AND, OR, and NOT to narrow or broaden search results.

  • AND for records that include both terms (narrows search)
  • OR for records that include either term (broadens search)
  • NOT to exclude irrelevant concepts (narrows search)

Using AND

  • narrow results
  • ALL terms must be in each search result

Note: in most, but not all, databases, the AND is implied. For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between search terms.

Example:  renewable energy AND China


Using OR

  • connect similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden results (ANY of the terms can be in the search results.)

Example:  renewable energy OR solar OR wind




Using NOT

  • exclude words from search
  • narrow the search

Example:  peacekeeping NOT United Nations


Adapted from SAIS Library, Johns Hopkins Univ. "Database Search Tips" Guide