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HI 2315: The Shaping of Post-1920 America - Prof. Megan Sethi: Search Strategies

Prof. Megan Sethi

Use the tabs below to find search tips, information on using Boolean operators, and guidance on how to get full-text access to sources. 

Search & Evaluation Strategies

Choosing Keywords/Search Terms

  • This process often requires some trial and error.
  • Begin with some basic keywords about your topic to get started.
  • Brainstorm synonyms for those keywords.
  • Use encyclopedias to find more complex vocabulary/technical terms.
    • Online encyclopedias are a good place to start but not a good place to finish. Use encyclopedias as a starting point to find ideas and inspiration for what you want to learn more about. Academic works do not usually cite encyclopedias, so you will need to take the topics you find in encyclopedias and look for more scholarly sources on those topics.
  • READ – the more you read about your topic, the more you will learn about the vocabulary used in that field, which will help you to refine your keyword searches.
  • This is not a linear process. There will be a lot of back and forth between reading/note taking and trying different search terms. 

Use search filters

  • When searching in databases, use search filters on the search results page to narrow down your search. Some of the most common filters are:
    • Publication Date
    • Source Format/Resource Type (book, journal, video, etc.)
    • Subject 
    • Peer-reviewed/Academic Journal

Get the full text of a source

  • Some of the library's databases only provide abstracts for sources. Look for the FullTextFinder icon on the search results page. If you only have the summary/abstract of an article, click on the FullTextFinder to search all 200+ library databases for the full-text.
  • Use Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Submit an ILL request to get full-text journal articles, books and book chapters that are not available through the Gordon Library. ILL is a service that allows you to request these materials, and library staff will try to get these materials for you from another library. 

Finding one helpful source can lead you to more

  • Check bibliographies for additional relevant sources.
  • Some databases provide “cited by” links for articles - these links help you find sources that have cited an article and built on the authors' research.
  • Some databases provide “related articles” links to connect you to articles on similar topics. 

Evaluate your sources

  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • What is the reputation of the publisher or the organization behind the source?
  • When was the source published?
  • How did the authors gather their data and derive their conclusions? 
  • What do other sources say about this topic?

Boolean Operators:

Use these search terms to narrow or broaden your search:





 Watergate AND Nixon 

 Narrows the search to entries containing both terms. 


farm OR agriculture

 Broadens the search to entries containing either or both of these terms. 


 Stonewall NOT Jackson

 Excludes entries containing the second term. 

Additional Search Tips:

 Term   Example  Result

 “ ” 

 “Great Depression” 

 Retrieves results containing the exact phrase in quotes. 



 Wildcard: Retrieves women, woman, etc. 



 Truncation: Retrieves educate, education, educator, educational, etc. 

Start at the Library Website

Links in the WPI Library Search and database links on the library website are configured to allow for off-campus access to full-text resources. When doing research off-campus, begin at the library website to gain full access to the library's electronic resources.

Full Text Finder

When searching in the library's databases, you may find an abstract for an article but not the full-text. When this happens, click on the FullTextFinder icon. 

The FullTextFinder will either redirect you to another database that has the full-text of the article or it will tell you that we don't have this article in our collections. If we don't have an article that you need, request the article via Interlibrary Loan. Interlibrary Loan (ILL) is a service that allows WPI students and faculty to request items from other libraries free of charge. 

Interlibrary Loan

Is there something you need that the WPI library doesn't have? Our Interlibrary Loan service allows WPI students and faculty to request items from other libraries free of charge.


Use to search for books, articles, and more at libraries around the world. Request materials from other libraries via Interlibrary Loan

Borrow from Nearby Libraries

The Academic and Research Collaborative (ARC) allows member users to borrow directly from Worcester area libraries. Before you can borrow materials directly from participating libraries, you need to sign up for an ARC card in person at the Gordon Library's Information Desk. Pick up your ARC card today!

As a resident of Massachusetts, you can sign up for a library card at the Worcester Public Library (WPL). WPI students with a college ID can are eligible for WPL cards. You can also sign up for an ecard, which allows you to access the WPL's online resources. 

As a resident of Massachusetts, you can also sign up for a library card at the Boston Public Library (BPL). Students who live in Massachusetts while attending school are eligible for a BPL card. The BPL also has an option for an ecard, which allows you to access the BPL's online resources.