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Identify Keywords

To perform searches, you will need keywords.

Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic...


How do artistic representations of Madonna change during the Renaissance? 

First we'll eliminate irrelevant words.  The databases will search for every word that you type into the searchbox, so try to keep your search simple - just a few words. 

How do artistic representations of the Madonna change during the Renaissance? 

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 artistic representations, Madonna and Renaissance.

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

Artistic representations depictions, symbolism, portrayals, iconography

The Madonna Mary, Jesus' mother, holy mother

Renaissance - Late Medieval, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli

Create a Search Strategy

Next, combine any one of the keywords from each group using AND. 


  1. iconography AND Madonna AND Renaissance
  2. symbolism AND Madonna AND Late Medieval

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 Searching

Sometimes, advanced search techniques can save you time and get you better results than a simple search with two keywords and AND.

To create an advanced search strategy...

  • Use AND to connect concepts. AND finds both terms, so a search for Madonna AND Renaissance returns articles that talk about both.
  • Use OR to look for synonyms or related ideas.  OR looks for either term, so a search for Leonardo da Vinci OR Botticelli will return results that talk about either of these related artists.
  • Use NOT to specify words that should not be included in the article.
  • Use quotation marks [“ “] to search for phrases.
  • Use an asterisk [*] for truncation. For example, use symbol* to search for symbol, symbolism or symbols - any word that begins with s-y-m-b-o-l.

Finally, you can combine these techniques to create an advanced strategy.  You may have to try several searches to see what works best for your topic.

Example 1:  symbol* AND Madonna AND "Late Medieval"

Example 2:  Madonna AND ("Leonardo da Vinci" OR Botticelli)

Now, try to form a few search strategies for your own topic!