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English Language & Literature

A guide for English language and literature research at Purdue University Northwest Library

Video for PNW website walkthrough

Search Tips

Search tips for finding articles

Beginning your search: 

  • Use terms found in your background reading on the subject
  • Use the Thesaurus or Subject Terms listings, if available, in the databases you are searching
  • When you find a record for an item that is useful to you, look at its subject headings or descriptors for more ideas
  • Find appropriate Library of Congress Subject Headings if you are searching library catalogs and some databases

If you get too many results:

  • Consider narrowing down the search terms in an Abstract or even in the Title field
  • Try searching by Subject, rather than by Keyword (or by a combination of Subjects and Keywords or other fields)
  • Try phrase searching (usually by using " " around the phrase)
  • Use other limiters, if appropriate, such as a specific type of publication (Peer Reviewed, for example) or a specific time period

If your search does not yield enough results:

  • Check your search to see if you entered it and spelled it as you intended
  • Try other search terms and use OR between the terms to find items with any one of the terms
  • Look at the bibliographies of items that are closely related to your topic
  • Search in a different database or ask a reference librarian

Search Strategies

Search strategies

Searching a library database requires you to break your research question into searchable concepts.  The library databases work different than Google and a major pitfall when searching a library database is expecting the search interface to understand language and interpret your search question. Therefore, you will want to 

  • Identify the major concepts of your research topic.
  • Break your topic into major concepts that can be used as search terms. A concept could be a subject term, technical jargon, or a proper noun. These concepts are usually nouns of one or two words.
  • Combine these search terms together, but only one or two concepts at a time.
  • Run your search.
  • If you got no results; change your search terms or remove concepts from your search.
  • If you got thousands of results; add another concept or develop a more exact search by using scientific terminology as search terms. This will narrow your results.
  • Review your search results by looking at the title and abstract. Is the article on your topic? The title can give you a good indication of what the article is about, but sometimes you will need to look at the abstract to determine the topic of the article.

 

If you have trouble accessing this page because of a disability, please contact the library at libref@pnw.edu.