SOC 311: Social Stratification (Dr. Wells-Lewis): Search Tips

Resources examining the array of social structures within the United States

Brainstorming to find Keywords

What do you call this object?

pop can?
soft drink?
carbonated beverage?

Before you start searching, brainstorm different words to express your concept or idea.


Keyword are the words you will use to search electronic catalogs, databases and the Internet. You can miss lots of useful information if you don't use keywords effectively, because computers will only search on the terms you provide.

You should think about:

  • synonyms (e.g. mobile telephones, cell phones)
  • plural/singular forms (e.g. women, woman)
  • spelling variations (e.g. globalisation, globalization)
  • variations of a root word (e.g. feminism, feminist, feminine)
  • acronyms (e.g. non-governmental organisation, NGO)
  • regional & historic variations (e.g. Native American or Indian)
  • broader and narrower terms (e.g. drugs - cannabis, heroin, cocaine)
  • words which go out of everyday use, especially if searching for sources in history e.g. pauperism rather than poor

When you start searching note any useful alternative words that occur during your searches and add them to your keyword list.

Truncation Symbol (*)

Truncation Finds Multiple Word Forms

The asterisk (*) is usually used, to search words with the same root:

        Sociolog* =  Sociology, Sociological, Sociologist(s), etc

Wildcard Symbol (?)

Wildcard symbols (usually a ‘?’) replace a single letter:

        Wom?n = Woman, Women

Use the Thesaurus

Sometimes keywords that worked well in one database won’t be as effective in another.  If you find that your results are a bit scattered, try using that database’s terminology:  the Thesaurus or Subject Terms link.  Many databases have a list of designated words that are used to summarize a topic, but they may not be obvious to you.

For example, when the keyword salaries is browsed for in ‘Subject Terms’ in the SocINDEX with Full Text database it tells the searcher to use the term, ‘WAGES’ in place of  ‘salaries’.

Boolean Search Techniques

Need to search a database? Watch this Boolean clip to learn how to combine search words and get the results you are looking for.

Adapted from the materials created by The University of Auckland Library, NZ. This video is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license.

Selecting & Using Keywords

Spiva Library Help

Phone: 417-625-9342


SocIndex Tutorial

3 minute tutorial uploaded to YouTube by on Aug 24, 2010

Disregard contact information at the end of the tutorial. 
Need more help?  Contact Nancy:; 417-625-9729

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