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ENG102: First-Year Composition (Nielson)

This guide was designed to support students enrolled in ENG102, however, others conducting student research might also find the content useful.

What is a database?

A database is used to store information.  The information must be retrievable.  In the case of library databases, keywords or search terms are used to access the stored information, which includes among other resources e-books and articles.     

Keywords & phrase searching

Sentences or sentence fragments should not be used when database searching.  Instead, researchers should use keyword or phrase searching.  


Think of words that best describe the topic you are searching.  Quotation marks are used to identify phrase searching (for example, "living dead").


Concepts can be identified using various words so it is helpful to identify synonyms or related terms as well.


Topic: Why is our culture currently fascinated by zombies?
Keyword(s)/phrase culture, fascinated, zombies 
Synonyms: "popular culture", obsession, “living dead”
Related terms:   "horror movies," "Walking Dead"

Thinking of wh- words that ask who, what, where and when can help focus a search.  

Topic: Should the racial make-up of a police department be the same as the community they serve? 
Keyword(s)/phrases:  race, police, community
Who? Michael Brown 
What? "personalized policing," demographics
Where? Ferguson
When?   protests, grand jury decision 

Topic What is HPV and the vaccine given for its prevention?
Search terms

What is your paper topic? 

List 5 terms related to the topic that can be searched on for information.  


Why use it?  

  • Summary information about topics
  • Identifies questions or problems relevant to the topic
  • Helps narrow your research
  • Provides words or phrases for further searching

Why use with CAUTION?


Anyone can edit Wikipedia and the sites reliability is based on how quickly misinformation or disinformation can be corrected.     



Subject terms

Subject headings or controlled vocabulary are terms assigned in the database to identify particular topics. Database thesauri can be used to identify subject terms.

Subject terms search the subject heading field of the bibliographic record.  This specificity limits the search and creates more relevant results.