ENGL 251: Asian American Literature

Strategize your Database Searches

Step 1: Strategize Search Terms (Keywords)

Identify Search Terms

Whether you know your exact focus or research question or you are just starting out with a general topic, start with keywords that capture your topic to find information sources. 

What do I know? What do I wish to know?

Start with what you know. Add to your search terms as you research and learn.

Name of Work
Theoretical Lens
Ex: The Yellow Wallpaper Charlotte Perkins Gilman



Gender roles




Connect key ideas to find relevant articles, books, and more. Example:

Screen capture: advanced search - yellow wallpaper AND gender OR women OR femininity

Download the handout below to brainstorm keywords. Construct possible sample searches from your keywords to try in library databases.

Tip: Think broadly about your topic. Look for criticism about:

  • the larger work if you are writing an interpretation of a short story or poem
  • the author's work as a whole
  • a theme or genre

Step 2: Use Search Terms Effectively in Library Databases

Construct effective searches

To find relevant sources in research databases, try these strategies for effective keyword searches:
  • Use simple search terms.
    • Ex: "Joy Harjo" AND storytelling instead of "storytelling in the work of Joy Harjo"
  • Use AND to focus your search. 
    • Ex: “yellow wallpaper” AND gender
  • Use OR to search for either/both terms. This gets you more results and is useful for trying synonymous terms.
    • Ex: "yellow wallpaper" AND (gender OR women OR femininity)
  • Use a range of Keywords and Subject Terms and search in different research databases to find the best articles and books for your analysis.
  • Do not use the first few resources you find; try to find relevant articles and books that you can engage in your own analysis of the text.
  • Search for ideas and interpretation beyond your specific text.
    • Look for analysis of other works by your author and then synthesize relevant ideas into your analysis
    • Look for analysis of key concepts and issues in literature and then synthesize relevant ideas into your analysis.
Try Subject Terms to capture relevant texts on a subject.
  • Note: Subject Terms may exclude some results.

Sample Subject Terms:

  • Literature
  • Criticism
  • LITERATURE -- History & criticism
  • FEMINIST literary criticism  
  • Film Criticism
  • Motion Picture Criticism

Look for relevant Subject Terms as you search with keywords or browse Thesaurus or Subject Terms.

Method 1:

Browse Subject Terms in ASP

Method 2:


Method 3:

Use the menu on the left of a search and select Subject: Thesaurus Term. Add just one term at a time.

snip-menu-subject terms

Sample Search in ProQuest Database:

Scholarly search in ProQuest: type in search terms - Use AND to connect - for ex: author and idea. Limit to scholarly peer reviewed sources. Can limit to full text.

Step 3: Strategize Information Source Types

Information is created for different purposes and audiences. 

Strategize where to look for the information you need. 
  • Reference for background info, including overviews of history, issues, debates & stakeholders. Leads to key sources. Key terminology/concepts of the topic.
  • Books/book chapters for history, memoirs, biography, criticism, essays, and more. You may use and cite just one relevant chapter of a book, rather than read the entire work.
  • Magazine and Newspaper articles for reporting, analysis, and opinion on current news and culture. 
  • Multimedia (tv, radio, podcasts, film, etc.) for news, analysis, discussion, interviews and more.
  • Scholarly Peer Reviewed Journals for in-depth, highly focused analysis and research for an academic audience.
  • Web sources for author websites, community organizations, government info, educational sites, and more.

Video: How to Use Keywords to Form a Research Strategy

Source: "From topic to search results in two minutes! " by Holman Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Learn about strategizing keywords and how databases work when searching keywords.

Video: What are the Differences between Information Sources?

Source: "Types of Information Sources" by Research 101, is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.

Learn how to identify various information sources including news periodicals, trade publications, academic papers, and conference proceedings