Check out these video and text tutorials to level up your search skills in academic databases:
This video from the University of Houston Libraries explains key differences between Google and academic research databases.
Among the points they underscore is that you can use 'natural language'' to search Google, e.g.: Who was the first Black Vice-President of Costa Rica? In other words, you can search as if you were directly asking a question. (Answer, in case you didn't know: Epsy Campbell Barr)
By contrast, research databases do not work with natural language searches, but rather, keywords searches.
Watch this video to learn more (but contact Tulane Libraries--not UH--for help!)
Now that you've learned about the importance of keyword searching in academic databases, watch this video tutorial from Tulane University Libraries on how to identify keywords and phrases for your information search:
Now that you've learned more about selecting keywords, what is the best way to combine keywords for an effective search?
Boolean and other operators are important for refining your search. Watch this overview from Beloit College Libraries to learn more.
Boolean Operators are words that you use between your keywords/search terms to connect them in some way:
When researching a given topic, don't forget that your subjects may have variances due to translation, transliteration, and other kinds spelling variations.
You can account for variations by using the Boolean and other operators you learned about above, and checking to see the standard names and terms by which resources are cataloged.
For example, the K'iche' people and language were long referred to in the Latin alphabet as Quiché. The subject heading continues to be spelled Quiché, so it's important to search for both:
Similarly, texts in indigenous languages, like K'iche'', will have variant spellings:
Watch this video to see a librarian do a sample search with Boolean and other operators in Library Search.
Language is never neutral.
Behind every database are people--all with distinct backgrounds and biases--who have to make decisions about which subject headings and keywords to use to facilitate your search.
Library of Congress (LC) subject headings--which many catalogers and indexers use as a standard--may not match the keywords you would intuitively generate or prefer to use for personal and political purposes. Often, LC subject headings generated decades ago no longer align with newly accepted terms. They may even be offensive and racist. Nonetheless, they are still used broadly as a reference.
Here are some examples of the difference between terms you might think to use vs. LC subject headings:
|If you're researching...||The LC subject heading would be...|
|Film/ movies/ cinema||Motion Pictures|
|Indigenous peoples/ first nations/ Indians/ indios of Mexico||Indians of Mexico|
|Undocumented immigrants||Illegal Aliens (until 2021), Noncitizens|
|Latinos, Latinas, Latin@s, Latinxs, Latines||Hispanic Americans|
The article and documentary linked below offer further context on the history and problematics of LC subject headings. The better you understand the decisions that go into organizing information in academic databases, the more effectively you will be able to search--while also maintaining awareness of the systemic forces and politics behind information economies and infrastructures.