Keywords are the words you type into a search box to search for information on your topic. The words you use to describe your topic may be different from the words used in the library catalog and databases. We use natural language in conversations and searching the internet for information, but the library uses a controlled vocabulary for searching the catalog and databases. You can use keywords to find out the actual subject heading of your topic. For example, people recognize that WWII is commonly known as World War II, but in the catalog and databases the actual subject heading is World War (1939-1945). Once you discover the subject heading, use that term to locate more resources on that specific topic.
Combine keywords and subject headings to narrow your topic. If you do a search in the library catalog for Geoffrey Chaucer, you will find hundreds of books by and about Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, etc. But, you really only want to find information on one of Chaucer's tales, "The Wife of Bath." Use the keywords Chaucer AND "Wife of Bath" to narrow your search to books that discuss those two concepts.
Check out this tutorial from the Leonard Lief Library at Lehman College CUNY.
Searching for articles and books in the library requires skill, practice, and patience! If you only use the internet for resources, you are missing carefully chosen collections of high-quality information provided by the library through databases. Although these sources are found using an internet connection, you are not searching the Web (WWW). The databases contain information that is not found on the internet, that is high quality, that is accessible 24/7, and that is what your professor is wanting to see in your essays!
The skills needed for searching databases are identifying keywords and understanding Boolean operators.
Boolean Operators (also referred to as logical operators or connectors) are words used to connect your search terms. Use these search techniques to either narrow or expand your search in a database.
AND: The operator AND will retrieve search results that contain all of the search terms used. Use AND to narrow your search by retrieving more specific results.
OR: The operator OR will retrieve search results that contain any of the search terms used. Use OR to expand your search by broadening the range of resources. OR is most useful when using synonyms as search terms.
NOT: The operator NOT will eliminate search results that contain a search term. Use NOT to narrow your results by excluding resources with a particular search term.