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HIST 040: Comparative Women's History: Search Strategies

A guide for students in HIST040 designed to help with final paper assignments

Defining a Research Question

It is important to draft a research question or set of questions that you can investigate in the timeframe and page limits of your project. Below is a worksheet that can help you compose your question(s):


Boolean Searching

Boolean searching allows you to customize how you search for things in academic databases, and it's based on a few key pieces of syntax: AND, OR, NOT, (), and "". 


When you put two terms into an academic database, AND is usually implied: You usually want both words in Muslim women to appear in your search results. You could just as easily write:

Muslim AND women

OR and ""

But let's say that I want to find something about childhood in revolutionary America. If I want articles that cover young children and teenagers/adolescents I can do the following:

children OR adolescents AND "revolutionary America"

What this tells my database is that I don't care which term appears in the results. I just want one of them. In addition, I want revolutionary America to be searched as a phrase. (This also works in Google with song lyrics.)


What if I'm looking for women in STEM (science, engineering, mathematics, and technology) fields, though? Try it. You'll see a lot of resources on stem cells. This is where the NOT operator is helpful:

women stem NOT cell NOT "clinical trial" NOT "stem cells"

Narrowing a Search

When you have a large number of hit results, there are a few tips and tricks to narrow down the search to a more manageable amount of results:

  • Search for multiple keywords instead of a single word
  • Limit the time period of publication
  • Use the "subject" facet on the left-hand side of most databases to select the subject headings that relate most to your topic

Your Personal Subject Librarian

Jennifer Snow's picture
Jennifer Snow