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ENG Literature (WO): Search Strategy

Identify Keywords

To perform searches, you will need keywords.



Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic... How do Poe and Hawthorne use symbolism in their short stories?

First we'll eliminate irrelevant words like “how do” and “use”.  The databases will search for every word that you type into the searchbox, so try to keep your search simple - just two or three words. 

How do Poe and Hawthorne use symbolism in their short stories?

When you eliminate the irrelevant words from your research question, you should be able to spot major concepts.  The three major concepts in our example are Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and symbolism.

Now, let's take each of those and come up with as many synonyms (or related ideas) as we can.

Edgar Allan Poe – Poe, "The Masque of the Red Death", "Fall of the House of Usher", "The Raven"

Nathaniel Hawthorne – Hawthorne, "The Scarlet Letter", "Rappaccini's Daughter"

Symbolism – Symbol, Symbolic, imagery, dark and light

Create a Search Strategy

Finally, combine any one of the keywords from each group using the search connector AND. 


1.      Poe AND Hawthorne AND symbolism

2.      "The Raven" AND symbols

3.      "The Scarlet Letter" AND symbolism

Different combinations of search terms will give you very different results, so you may want to try several different search strategies to see which gives you the best results.

Advanced Search Strategies

Use OR to look for synonyms.  OR looks for either term, so a search for Poe OR Hawthorne finds articles that use either term but not necessarily both.

Use quotation marks [“ “] to search for multi-word phrases.  A search for The Scarlet Letter will automatically look for the terms Scarlet and Letter (ignoring The), but they may appear in completely different parts of the article.  For example, you might find an article about the letter that my friend Scarlet wrote.

Use an asterisk [*] for truncation. For example, use symbol* to find symbol, symbols, symbolism, symbolic, etc.


1.      (Poe OR Hawthorne) AND symbol*

2.      Poe AND Hawthorne AND "Dark Romanticism"