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History: Get Better Results

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Last Updated: Aug 11, 2022 10:13 AM

Construct a successful search

  1. Do not write an entire sentence into a database's search box.  Explain your topic to someone in three words or less.  Multi-word terms that are a single idea count as one word, just put them in quotation marks (e.g. "New Deal").  These are your search terms.
  2. Search terms that represent different aspects of your topic (e.g. women and voting) should be entered into different search boxes when available.  Otherwise, these terms can be combined using the word AND (e.g. women AND voting).
  3. Search terms that are synonyms or related terms (e.g. "Revolutionary War" or "War of Independence") should be entered into the same search box and combined using the word OR (e.g. "Revolutionary War" OR "War of Independence").  If multiple search boxes are not available, group related terms in parentheses and combine with the word OR.

Single search box example:

Multiple search box example:

Find more relevant results

Proximity searching  allows you to find results where your search terms appear close to one another (e.g. three words apart).  The premise is that if your terms appear close together, the words are probably being discussed in the same context.  Use proximity searching when you are getting too many results, especially ones that use your search terms, but not together.

Unfortunately there is not a universal way to construct a proximity search.  Consult a database's "Help" menu to find out how to use this method in that specific database. Here are the formats for the databases listed on this guide:

Note: The number 3 is used as an example and can be replaced by any number. You might try 3 then 10 then 15 then 25.

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