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WRIT 31300 Teaching/Supervising Writing

General Background Information

Often, it is helpful to consult a general source when you are beginning your research so that you can learn more about it and narrow your search terms. The Hiram College Library offers databases that search a variety of sources as well as databases that are subject specific (Nursing, History, Science, etc.). Below are some general-purpose databases to help you get started. 

Visit the A-Z list of databases for a complete list of all of Hiram College Library's database subscriptions listed alphabetically by name. Note that the name of the database might not match the subject. For example, CINAHL is a database about nursing, but it does not have nursing in its title. The search box at the top of the page allows you to search for subjects to narrow down your list of database choices. 

Sample Subject Search on A to Z database page

Getting Better Results

Finding the right words to use when searching is the hardest and most time consuming aspect of library research. 


  • Use Keywords, not Sentences: Spend a few minutes (time yourself!) thinking about your topic and the key terms within your research question. Pick out the most important words.
    Example Question: What effect does social media have on startup companies and entrepreneurs?
    Example Keywords: "social media" and "startup companies" and entrepreneurs
  • Use Synonyms: If your initial search doesn't yield results, try to think of synonyms for your search.
    Example: "corporate citizenship" or "social responsibility of business"
    Example: footwear or shoes
  • Subject suggestions: If you find a couple of good articles or books, look at their subject headings. Use them as keywords to see what other resources you can find. 
    • The "Subject: Thesaurus" can show you what subjects appear most often in your searches to help you think of additional keywords.
    • In the library's catalog (books), these are in the "Suggested Terms" tab.
                      library catalog showing a list of suggested terms
  • Use Booleans: Try using the "or" search to search for multiple keywords or subjects at once.
    Example: "corporate citizenship" or "social responsibility of business" will find any articles with either of those keywords in their title, abstract, or subjects. See "Precision in Searching" below for more details about using Boolean search operators (and, or, not).
  • Still stuck? Ask a librarian for help! We've spent many years trying to hone our search skills, and we love a challenge!

Precision in Searching

The words "AND," "OR," and "NOT" can help you make a search more precise. This is called Boolean searching, and it can seem really intimidating, but once you get the hang of them, Boolean searches can really help you!

For example, the search 'films AND psychology NOT children', will return a search with results that contain the keywords 'films' and 'pyschology' but not 'children' - important if you are only looking at adolescent psychology in films.

Learn more with this guide from the MIT libraries. It really helps explain Boolean searching, and you don’t have to be a computer scientist to understand!

Choosing Search Terms: Keywords vs Subject

Subject headings describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings (a.k.a. descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases or the library's catalog for books.

It is not easy to guess which subject headings are used in a given database. For example, the phone book's Yellow Pages use subject headings. If you look for "Movie Theatres" you will find nothing, as they are listed under the subject heading "Theatres - Movies."

Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines.  Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.

Here are some key points about each type of search:

  • natural language words describing your topic - good to start with
  • pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database
  • more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways
  • less flexible to search by - need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • database looks for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together
  • database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear
  • may yield too many or too few results
  • if too many results - also uses subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject
  • may yield many irrelevant results
  • results usually very relevant to the topic

When you search a database and do not get the results you expect, Ask Us for advice.