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GEO 3340: Political Geography.: Search Strategies

This guide was created to support GEO 3340: Political Geography.


Our library databases have great resources, including thousands of peer-reviewed articles.  However, the databases are much more particular about the words you enter.   The results will contain the words exactly how you spelled them.

Also, sometimes the words researchers use are not words that we would use in our everyday life.  That is why it is really important to brainstorm possible keywords before you start searching. 

For example, possible keywords may be: redlining, "covenant laws," racial discrimination, racial disparities, ethnic*, segregation, restrictive zoning, gentrification, gated communities, "white flight," Jim Crow, migration, etc.



When you search library resources, you will use keywords related to your research topic. Watch the video below to see how to break down your topic into lists of usable keywords. We call these your "search terms."

When you have a list of keywords, you'll need to combine them. The rest of the information on this page gives examples and tips for combining search terms in order to narrow down your search results.

Remember that the database can't interpret what you mean, so you have to be clear and specific with your searches in order to control the results.

Boolean Operators in Action: AND

Boolean Operators in Action: OR

Boolean Operators in Action: NOT

Narrow Down Your Topic

You can narrow down a topic through the 5 questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?

Phrase searching

What other search strategies are there?

In addition to "phrase searching," Boolean operators, and truncation, you can also try using wildcard searches

Like truncation, wildcard searches will expand your results. Wildcard searches allow the database to replace the wildcard symbol with any letters that would make up a real word. It's like a shorthand way of typing every possible word that fits the pattern with OR in between. Not only will this save you time, but it might also give you alternative keywords you hadn't even thought of.

Here's a table to illustrate how some of these symbols (including the truncation asterisk) typically work.

Symbol What it does Sample search Instead of typing
* replaces zero or more letters at the end of a word
(this is truncation)
comput* computer OR computing OR computational OR...
# replaces at most one letter ne#t net OR neat OR next OR nest OR...
? replaces only one letter b?t bat OR bet OR bit OR bot OR but OR...


REMEMBER: Some databases may use these symbols differently or may use different symbols, so check the database's help section if you're having problems with wildcards.