RHETOR R1B: Rhetorics of Everyday Life

Build and refine your search

Library catalogs and article databases offer several ways to narrow or broaden, or otherwise control your search.  Below are common methods; if they don't work, look for a "Help" link!

Most default to a quick keyword search (somewhat like Google) that assumes you want items containing all the words you type.

Example:
passions shakespeare

Most let you truncate a word with a wildcard symbol (usually * ) to get plurals and other variant forms.

Example: 
passion*
gets passion, passions, passionate

Most offer an Advanced Search with more options, such as searching on an author's name, or words in a title.

REFINING YOUR SEARCH
If your search retrieves too many items, use more specific terms, or put in additional keywords.

Example: 
eros shakespeare

gets fewer items than love shakespeare

Example: 
love poetry shakespeare

gets fewer items than love shakespeare

If your search gets too few items, use more general terms or remove some keywords.

You can also combine terms with OR to get more items.

Example: 
love OR eros
gets items containing either term.

FINDING RELATED ITEMS
In library catalogs and most article databases, click on the title of an interesting item and look in the detailed display for links (blue underlined text).  These may include the author's name, "Subjects" or "Subject headings".  Clicking on one of these links will do a search for items tagged the same way.

MANAGING RESULTS
Many catalogs and databases allow you to save items to a list/folder/etc. and e-mail, print or download the citation.  Some will allow you to output citations in a particular citation style (ex:  MLA or Chicago).

How to Narrow Your Topic

"I'm writing a paper on World War II." 

Often students start their research with a very general topic, even though they may realize the topic is too large to deal with in a 10-15 page paper.  Faculty and librarians tell them, "You have to narrow this down."  But how do you narrow a topic?

Ask yourself--

  • What discipline am I working in?  If you are in a sociology class, ask a sociological question about World War II, like "How did WWII affect women?"  If it's a political science class, your question might be something like "How did WWII affect presidential elections in the US?"
  • What are some subsets or aspects of your topic.  Some good aspects are:
    • by place, such as a country or region
    • by time period, such as a century, decade or year 
    • by population, such as men, women, ethnic group, youth, children or elderly

You can combine these ideas, "What were the major impacts of WWII on women in France, in the decade after the war?"

More ideas in our brief tutorial on topic selection and narrowing. 

This guide has been archived

Please note: this course guide was created during a previous semester, and is no longer being actively maintained. For a list of current course guides, please see http://lib.berkeley.edu/alacarte/course-guides.

Last Update: December 20, 2012 12:07