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Critical Approaches to Literature (ENG 212)

This guide is designed to point students to important critical tools and resources in the field of English literature that help with text and author analyses.

Searching Strategies

Search Strategies


This guide gives you an overview of the best searching strategies when conducting research in databases or online.

If you need help navigating WorldCat or any EBSCO database, scroll to the bottom for some image examples.

For instructions on how to evaluate what you find, visit the "Evaluating Resources" page.

Four Advanced Search Strategies

Four Advanced Search Strategies


There are four kinds of searching options. Good searchers are aware of each one and when and how to use them interchangeably or based on the database requirements.

  1. Word Strings:
    • Can also be thought of as building-block searching. Taking major words or phrases from your topic or thesis, use them various combinations or with synonyms to search databases.
  2. Boolean searching:
    • Uses particular words to expand or narrow your search results. (They are very useful in word strings.)  See a more detailed description in the next section.
  3. Changing Natural Language to Scholarly Language: (or subject headings and sub-headings)
    • Scholars don’t always use words that everyone else does. Using language from your class, textbooks, and other scholarly sources can often reveal more resources. You must also use subject headings or at least be aware of them when using databases like PubMed and Medline.
  4. Citation Pearl-Growing:
    • If you find a good and current article, try exploring the sources cited in footnotes or bibliographies. This can help you discover the primary authors who are doing research in your field, as well as other useful resources. As always, be sure to evaluate the resource.

Accomplished and skilled researchers are able to determine basic aspects of database organization using multiple strategies like these. When researching it is useful to understand background information, bibliographies, and the vocabulary of the discipline. You should use a wide variety of tools and use them wisely, and not depend on one specific source.

Boolean Search Basics

Boolean Search Basics


By using these connectors when employing library searches you will achieve the best results.

  • AND
    • This will narrow searches to include all terms that are connected with AND.
    • Example, "spiritual formation" AND "Fowler" requires both terms be present in the title, abstract, or keywords of a citation.
  • OR
    • This broadens searches to include more options based on search terms.
    • (college OR university) AND "Scripture Engagement" AND ("small groups" OR "discipleship groups")
    • Either the term college OR the term university must be present along with the phrase either "small groups" OR "discipleship groups" in the title, abstract, or keywords assigned to a citation.
  • NOT
    • This excludes a term from a search and thus helps narrow searches results. A search may be found to be too broad or not related to what is being sought. The NOT operator excludes a term from the search results.
    • Example: "Children's ministry" AND (education NOT school)


Other Searching Techniques

Other Searching Techniques


  • Use an * (asterisk) in your term.
    • When applied to a root of a word, it will search for multiple forms of a word at one time.
    • Examples
      • immigra* = immigrant, immigration
      • polic* = policy, policies
  • Use Quotation Marks around a common/important phrase
    • Sometimes, your keyword is really a key phrase. Quotation marks will ensure you search those exact words in that order.
    • "child development" or "climate change"
  • Add Additional Search Terms
    • If you have way too many results (>200), try adding another keyword or search term.
  • Use Limit/Refine options
    • Narrow the number of results you need to review by limiting the date range, or to scholarly/academic journals (when needed), or to Full Text (if you want immediate access to the article itself without using Interlibrary Loan).
    • Limit by Source Type: journal article, newspaper, magazine, etc.
  • Find the Permalink
    • To avoid losing access to articles (even leaving a browser open to a particular article can be lost after a few hours!), look at the Detailed Record of an item for the Permalink or Persistent Link. Do not use the link in the address bar!
    • The Permalink will give permanent access to the citation or article. Save it! Email it to yourself! Copy it into a Word doc!

Searching EBSCO Host Databases

Searching EBSCO host Databases


These still images provide some captions to help you understand how to search smarter and more efficiently.

Entering Search terms in Academic Search Premier


Next, try other ways of narrowing by Source Type or access the PDF Full Text of the article or request through Interlibrary Loan.

Other Limits in ASP and how to access articles

Searching WorldCat

Searching WorldCat


Begin by typing in search terms. 

  • Related terms can be connected with OR to search both at one time.
  • Major concepts of your topic can been connected with AND.
  • Save time searching by using an asterisk. The (*) on [immigra* AND polic*] will look for any number of endings for those root words.
    • immigra* = immigrant, immigration
    • polic* = policy, policies

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