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New Student Guide to Webster University Library

Beginning a search does not have to be scary if you take a few moments to come up with a strategy before you start.

  • Choose your topic: If you haven't already, choose your topic. And make it a broad one. It's easier to refine your topic later than to expand it when you can't find specific information.
  • Turn your topic into a question: Determine what you want to know about your topic. Usually, this means relating your topic to another idea.
  • Think of keywords: Come up with a few keywords or phrases to use as search terms. You should have two to four to start.
  • Find books: If you want books or eBooks, search the library catalog.
  • Find articles: Select a database that is likely to have articles on your topic. For subject-specific databases, see the list under Articles/Databases on the library homepage. If you are unsure which one to select, use Academic Search Premier, a general database that covers a wide variety of subjects.
    • Type your keywords into the search boxes. Use a separate box for different keywords or phrases. Then click the search button. 
    • Check out your results. 
      • Too many? Add another keyword to narrow your search or add a limiter (e.g. date) 
      • Too few? Remove one of your keywords or add synonyms (e.g. polar bear OR maritime bear)

Before you begin searching, it's often helpful to come up with a variety of search terms. These are usually nouns - any people, place, or thing that is somehow related to your topic.

Start your search with broad terms. This returns the most article results. As you continue to search, you can begin to narrow down your topic using more specific keywords.

Drawing a bubble chart can help you visualize your search terms. When drawing a bubble chart, you want to think of different subjects and ideas and how they relate to each other and your topic. It also helps to use synonyms because articles don't always use the same terminology.


Bubble chart example over how to find different subjects and ideas


When you think of your search terms, use AND and OR to help your search. AND and OR are called Boolean operators to combine keywords in your search. While both these words are useful, they will affect your search differently.

AND narrows your search (finds less). It retrieves materials that must contain all the keywords and phrases. Use AND for unrelated or different search terms.

  • E.g. polar bears AND global warming

Picture example of a venn diagram with the search terms Polar Bears AND Global Warming


OR broadens your search (finds mORe). It retrieves material that uses any keywords or phrases. Use OR for related or similar search terms.

  • E.g. global warming OR climate change

Picture example of a venn diagram with the search terms Global Warming OR climate Change

This is how the search might look in a database. Notice that the search boxes are combined using AND. You must type OR between the search terms global warming or climate change. 

Academic Search Premier search boxes showing search for polar bears AND (global warming or climate change)


This is one article found by the above search.

One result from the search: polar bears AND (global warming OR climate change)

Most of the library's databases provide tools on the left- or right-hand side of the results screen with options to help narrow down your search. This is where you can apply different limiters, sometimes called filters, to your initial search terms.

Limiter options might include:

  • Publication date
  • Resource type
  • Subject terms
  • Geography

Some helpful tips, when searching:

  • Check the box "Peer Reviewed" if your professor specifies that you need academic or scholarly articles
  • Check the box "Full Text" if you need an article at that moment and cannot wait for an article to be delivered

Academic Search Complete picture of the Refine Results section of a search to show limiters locations

Why spend time trying to come up with subject terms when you can let the articles do the work for you?

Every scholarly article in our databases is already tagged with one or more subject headings. So, if you locate a relevant article and want to find more like it, you can use one of the article's subject headings to locate similar results.

Here's how it works:

When you find an article that sounds interesting, click the blue underlined title to see the detailed record. For example, I searched "polar bears" in our Academic Search Premier database and found this article about hibernation.

Depending on your topic, you might find interesting results by clicking on a subject heading to run the search automatically through the database.

Remember you can still apply limiters (e.g., date) to the results of a subject heading search the same as with any other search.

Image of Subject Terms and other metadata from article "Hibernation and Seasonal Fasting in Bears: the energetic costs and consequences for polar bears"