UMGC Library

African American Studies: Search Tips

A Library Research Guide

Search Tips

The first step for effective research is choosing a good topic. You want to strike a balance between a topic that is too broad, where you'll retrieve thousands of search results, and too narrow, where you won't retrieve enough relevant information. 

It can help to try some sample searches before you decide on your final topic, so you can decide if there is enough information about your topic, or if you will need to make your original topic idea more specific. 

How do I choose keywords for my searches?

  • Words to include
    When you choose keywords for your search, you would want to include just the main ideas of your research question

Research question: How has the African American culture evolved throughout history?

Using just the main ideas, a search on this topic might look like this:

"African American" AND culture AND history
  • Use quotation marks
    If any of your search terms are phrases longer than one word, like "African American," you can optimize your search by putting quotation marks around them. Using quotation marks will ensure that the database finds results that use that exact phrase.  
  • Use AND
    To search for multiple concepts at the same time, you need to link your search terms with and. This strategy will narrow your search. 
"African American" AND history


Found too many results?

  • Add more keywords

If you find that you are retrieving too many results, try adding more keywords to further narrow your topic.

"African American" AND culture AND history

Found too few results?

  • If you are searching for a really specific topic, you might not find enough information. In this case, you can try broadening your search by using fewer search terms, or by using or to add synonyms for your current search terms. If you link synonyms with or, make sure to put them inside parentheses.  
"African American" AND (culture OR heritage) AND (evolve OR change) AND history


Please review our database search basics guide as well for further tips and more in-depth information about search strategies.

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