Conducting Library Research

Keyword Search

A keyword search is more flexible than a subject search. But to be effective you first need a list of likely keywords that can be entered individually or in various combinations into the search field. Start with subject headings. An extensive list of standard terms used by most libraries can be found online in the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH).

Steps of a Keyword Search Using CSU's SAGE Catalog

Step One

The screen-shot below illustrates the first step in a keyword search for source material about the "Dust Bowl", the 1930's natural disaster in which John Steinbeck set the great American classic, The Grapes of Wrath.

Feel free to open the SAGE catalog in a new browser window and become the researcher yourself. Just follow the discussion below.

Screen shot of SAGE keyword search

As you can see, the researcher has selected the "Keyword" tab and entered a subject heading into the first two search fields. Notice that the results are to be tied together by the Boolian search term AND, which instructs the search engine to return all records having both sets of words.

Step Two

This screen-shot illustrates the results page that returned after submitting the request.

Screen shot of SAGE keyword search

As you can see, five records have been found. Not great, but it's better than the two records turned up in the previous subject search tutorial. A further search is in order.

Step Three

This screen-shot illustrates a return to the initial keyword search page for another try.

Screen shot of SAGE keyword search

As you can see, the keywords migration and California were added to the search fields and great depression was left out.

Step Four

The final screen-shot illustrates a new results page.

Screen shot of SAGE keyword search

The researcher was able to identify two new sources and, in this case, neither one was among those turned up in the first search. There are now seven useful titles related to the 1930's dust bowl that can be added to the working bibliography.

Be aware that duplication is more the rule than the exception and be prepared for its likelihood as you continue combining keywords in your search.

Your skills will naturally improve as you familiarize yourself with your library's online catalog. Be aware that this type of searching will also generate a lot of irrelevant titles along with the useful ones, especially if the terms entered are fairly common or generic. Learn to be specific.

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