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HIST - United States History Research Guide

Selecting Keywords and other Search Tips

One of the greatest challenges in starting a new research project is deciding which search terms best describe your topic as you begin the search for resources. Try to use just a few keywords instead of typing long sentences. Here are few tips:

  • Enter keywords that represent your topic
  • Limit searches to two or three keywords: immigration laws
  • Don't search with sentences, questions, or long phrases.
  • Combine terms with OR to broaden: immigration OR diaspora
  • Combine terms with AND to narrow: immigration AND United States AND laws
  • Place quotation marks around words you wish to be searched as a phrase: "United States"


Books typically provide extensive coverage on one topic or theme. Subject-specific reference books can provide you with background information as well as the historical context of your topic.

  • Circulating Books may be checked out for use outside the library.
  • Electronic Books (ebooks) are always available and may be viewed on any computer with an internet connection, on or off campus.
  • Reference Books are available for use in the library, but not for checkout.

Write down the call number of the print books in your search results to help you locate the books on the shelf, and to give you an idea of where to browse for similar titles.


Articles published in periodicals (journals, newspapers, and magazines) can provide a narrower focus or perspective on specific aspects of your topic. It is useful to understand the purpose, authority, and identifying features of different types of periodicals.


  • Report original research and criticism
  • Published by professional associations to benefit those working in the field or discipline
  • Many articles are reviewed by other experts in the subject area (peer-review)
  • Articles are often lengthy and provide citations

Visit OneSearch to browse our entire collection of journals.


  • Focus on current events and news
  • Not usually considered scholarly or professional, but may be only source of information on very new topics


  • Focus on popular or current topics
  • Articles are often shorter and written for a general audience
  • Typically written by journalists