Research Help at the Reference Desk
Monday-Thursday: 1 to 4pm
Zoe Pettway Unno, Ph.D.
Shahla Bahavar, Ph.D.
Shalini Ramachandran, Ph.D.
Keywords are the building blocks of any good search and should be based off your main topic. They tell the database what exactly you are searching for. When developing your keywords you should consider if there are synonyms for the keywords you've already developed. This includes if there is a technical term for your keyword (i.e.: heart attack might be called a myocardial infarction). Also, consider broadening or narrowing your initial keyword and whether there are alternative spellings (i.e. aluminium, aluminum).
|Global Warming||Climate Change||Cereal Crops|
Once you have identified keywords to use for you search, you can then add in Boolean Operators to narrow or broaden your search. There are three Boolean Operators: AND, OR, & NOT. When using the operators they must be capitalized. Be careful when using the operators NOT. It can remove results you might want or need.
Additional Search Options
Use quotation marks to make sure phrases stay together. I.E. "offshore windfarm" or "metal lethargy"
Parentheses tell the database which part of search to look at first. For instance, in the search birds AND ("offshore windfarms" OR "marine windfarms"), ("offshore windfarms" OR marine windfarms") will be looked at first.
One of the first places you might consider is searching is Google. While Google is a great resource, it can often lead to broad searches without sources you can use.
For example, when searching for metal fatigue (see above) Google returns 25,900,000 results, but the the USC Libraries returns a more manageable 291,743. Notice that the quality of results differs as well. Google appears to show results for a video game, a studio album, and links to Wikipedia.
The libraries search brings back books, articles, and newspapers. You'll also notice on the left-hand side that the USC libraries search allows you to filter the results to narrow them down to peer-reviewed journals, material type, and date ranges.
If you're not quite sure where to begin your search, take a look at our Knowing Where to Look tutorial.
You can start your search with the USC Libraries search found on the library homepage (pictured above) or with a more specific engineering database on the right.
Many of the databases will offer similar filters to ones you see in the USC Libraries search. Some of the most frequently used filters include limiting to peer-reviewed journals, full text online, and articles. Try your own search and see how the filters change the number and type of results. Keep in mind you may need to change the search phrase you created earlier if you're not getting the results you need.
You can use SCAAN to evaluate your sources. Check out our evaluating sources tutorial to practice.