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Bethel University Library

History Research Guide

Quick access to the resources and tools you will need to conduct effective history research

Tips for searching in online indexes/databases

  • Brainstorm a variety of keywords / search terms
    Examples:
    • poverty
    • low-income
    • income level
    • social class

  • To Narrow a search:
    Connect keywords with AND
    Example:
    poverty AND education AND achievement

  • Use quotes to search for a phrase
    Example:
    "social inequality"
    (NOTE:  This works well in most databases, but not in Summon)

  • To Broaden a search:
    Use OR to search synonyms
    Example:
    poverty OR low-income

Woman at a computer

  • Combine various search strategies
    Example:
    (poverty OR low-income) AND education

  • Search by keywords, not sentences
    Example:
    poverty AND "secondary education" AND achievement
                           instead of
    effect of poverty on high school students

  • Use * to get different endings of a root word
    Example:
    school* searches for:  school, schools, schooling

  • Look for official subject terms or descriptors; use these terms to find more articles on your topic
    Examples:
    United States--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
    World War, 1939-1945--United States
    Europe--Economic conditions--20th century
    Depressions--1929--United States

Tips for finding primary sources

Identify the topic words you will use for your search

  • For example, if you were conducting research on slaves taken from Ardra in the Bight of Benin during the late 17th century, you may want to start with the following topic words:
    • slaves
    • slavery
    • slave trade
    • Ardra
    • Benin
    • West Africa
    • 17th century

Locate background information

  • Use encyclopedias and other background resources to identify key participants, dates, and publications (reports, newsletters, magazines, pamphlets, etc.) associated with your topic
  • Click on Reference in this guide for examples of resources in which to search for encyclopedias

Locate books and eBooks that contain primary sources

Use CLICsearch (Advanced Search) to search for books and eBooks on your topic

  • Put your topic words (people, places, events) in the first search boxes with the All Fields Search Type selected (the default)
    • Examples:
      • southampton insurrection
      • (slaves OR slavery) AND "united states"
      • (women OR wives OR wife) AND "united states"
  • Put the type of primary text or texts you are looking for in the subsequent search box and select the Subject Terms Search Type.

    NOTE:  You must use one of the words listed below since primary text catalog records generally use one of these words as part of their Subject Heading(s):
    • sources  (one of the most common words that identifies primary texts)
    • document*  (note the truncation character at the end of this term)
    • personal narratives
    • correspondence
    • letters
    • diaries
    • interviews
    • speeches
    • quotations
    • periodicals  (identifies newspapers, magazines, or journals)
    • manuscripts
    • reports


    You may want to combine some of the above words using OR

    Example:
    sources OR "personal narratives" OR correspondence OR diaries

    (Skip this step when looking for literary works not covered by any of the terms above)
     
  • For example:
    If you enter the following Advanced Search in CLICsearch...

         Any Field:   (slaves OR slavery) AND "united states"
         Subject:  sources OR "personal narratives" OR correspondence OR diaries
         Material Type:  Books

    ...you will obtain results that include:
    Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies

(NOTE: These tips are adapted with permission from Sarah Shoemaker, Archives & Special Collections Librarian at Brandeis)

CLICsearch Advanced Search Example for Primary Sources

Looking for additional help with conducting searches?

Here's a guide with more information that can assist you in Conducting Effective Searches