Skip to main content

SPAN 3010 Advanced Rhetoric and Composition: How to Search

A Course Guide to support research and inquiry for Spanish 3010 at the University of Colorado.

Step 3: How to Search

Many databases now allow for natural-language (Google-style) searching, but many of them don't. This page will teach you some basic and advanced techniques to help you efficiently target the information you want to find. Feel free to contact your Subject Librarian if you have questions or want additional tips!

Using Keywords in Search Statements

Keywords are also called search terms. They are the words we enter into the search box that target the information we seek. What you put into the search box is very important because if you use an incorrect term, you may be missing out on scholarship and information on your topic. The best way to avoid this issue is to try out various keywords and their synonyms. 

Hint: Keep track in a spreadsheet or research journal so that you know which keywords worked well and which didn't. You can also track the databases that you look in so that you are sure to check various places.

You can brainstorm your keywords in whatever way works best for you, but here's how I do it:

Keyword 1 - Synonym 1 OR Synonym 2 OR Synonym 3

For example: Trash - Basura OR Waste OR Desechos


Search Statements

When it comes time to search, you can swap your synonyms in and out to see what works best. You can also create complex search logic using multiple synonyms at the same time, connecting them with OR:

For example: (Trash OR Basura) AND "Costa Rica"

The above example will return results about Costa Rica AND Trash plus Costa Rica AND Basura, in both English and Spanish! However, if you prefer, you can search in each language separately. You can use this Boolean-style search in internet search engines (Google), library catalogs (OneSearch, Chinook), and databases (MLA, JSTOR, etc.). 


Below is a more concise description of the process

text alternative for web accessibility

Preparing to Search infographic

Searching Techniques

Finding materials in library databases, catalogs, or online requires similar skills. Below, I’ll explain two approaches. I’ll also include some additional tips and tricks:

1.    Finding something you know the name of – (known search)
  • If you know what you’re looking for, one of the easiest ways to find it is through phrase searching. Use quotation marks around a proper name or phrase to find an exact match: “to be or not to be” or “Andalusian Dog.” Use this technique everywhere from Chinook to Google to library databases.
  • If you’re in a database or the catalog (OneSearch or Chinook), you can do a combined title and author search from the Advanced Search Screen. Adding as many fields (title, author, publication date) as you know will help you find your item faster. This is called field searching.

Title and Author search in OneSearch for Andrew P. Miller's "Sustainable ecotourism in Central America: comparative advantage in a globalized world"

2.   Finding an unknown item – (unknown search)
  • Enter some keywords related to your topic in the search box. For example, ecotourism Costa Rica. You should get some results. In some databases or search engines, you may have to add the connector ‘AND’ in between your keywords: Ecotourism AND "Costa Rica" (if your keyword is a commonly-used phrase, put it in quotation marks to get an exact match). This is called Boolean searching. ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’ are other Boolean connectors and operators, and usually work best when in capital letters. Here's what that looks like in an Advanced Search Screen:

Boolean-style keyword search for (ecotourism OR ecoturismo OR "sustainable tourism") AND "Costa Rica"

  • If you’re not getting results, or you’re not getting the ones you want, try searching for some information in Google or Wikipedia to get different keywords to try. For example, Salvador Dali's experimental film. A natural-language search like that will produce results that will include information about his surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou” or “An Andalusian Dog” from 1929.
Tips & Tricks

- Google has some advanced search features, including Boolean operators

- The library catalog, Chinook, and OneSearch have lots of options both on the Advanced Search screen, and on the filters that you can use to narrow your search after the fact

- Many databases (EBSCO, ProQuest, JSTOR, etc.) will let you use a wildcard symbol. The symbol * can be added onto the root of a word, comput* to help you locate all variations of that word: computer, computers, computing, computational… Each database may have its own symbols(# or ?), so be sure to look for a Help Menu or Search Tips

- When in doubt, you can always contact your Subject Librarian

Internet Search Engines

There are various search engines that serve different purposes. Google is the most well-known and has some great features.

Search recent news:


Google Search Filtered by News and Past Month


Search domains or websites using Google:

site search in Google for (basura OR trash) AND (tourism OR ecoturismo)

Other search engines:

Broadening and Narrowing Searches

Brainstorming keywords can save you time in the end. When you’re just starting a research project, it’s hard to predict the best terms to use. This is why you will have to try multiple searches. Through this process, you will learn what are the best terms to use.

Now let’s combine your terms into a search statement! You will combine your terms using Boolean Operators: “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT.” 

AND, OR, and NOT Venn diagram

Image from School District of Onalaska tech/boolean-search-tools


Adding an "AND" between search terms will help you narrow your search. For example, if I combine the terms, “minority students” AND “student organizations” AND participation, in an article database, I will only find articles that contain all of these terms and phrases in them.

NOT” also narrows your search by excluding terms. It can be helpful for disambiguation purposes. For example, if I were in an astronomy class, and I was studying Pluto, I might search for “Pluto NOT Disney” to eliminate results about the cartoon dog.


OR,” on the other hand, broadens your search. If I search for, “Black Student Union” OR “Student organizations” OR “extra-curricular activities” OR “student clubs” you will find articles that have at least one of these terms in it.

Using Library of Congress Call Numbers

Photograph of Spine Labels with Library of Congress Call Numbers

Photo by Bronwen K. Maxson. No rights reserrved.

Most academic university libraries us the Library of Congress Classification System to organize their materials. When you walk into the book shelves (for example, the Norlin Stacks), you will not see our books organized by Genre (Fiction, Romance, Mystery). Instead, our system allows us to locate books on similar topics near each other. A Call Number is like a book's address and will get you to a shelf of books on related topics. 

To use a Call Number, check out the link below from the University of Georgia.

If your book is not on the shelf, check the Sorting Shelves to see if we are in the process of returning the the book to it's shelf or ask for help at the Research Desk (level 2) or Bookfinders (level 3). Additionally, if you locate a resource in Chinook, the catalog, with a Dewey Decimal Number, you will have to request it from our off-site facility, PASCAL.

LC Book Classification


General Works


Philosophy, Psychology, Religion


Auxiliary Sciences of History


World History


History of the Americas


History of the Americas


Geography, Anthropology, Recreation


Social Sciences


Political Science








Fine Arts


Language and Literature










Military Science


Naval Science


Bibliography, Library Science



Be sure to evaluate the information that you find, especially if the information is found on the general internet. You should also evaluate what you find in scholarly databases. See the "Read & Evaluate" page for more info.