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ENGL: 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.