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CAS 100: Effective Speech (Greater Allegheny)

Research guide for CAS 100 students at Penn State Greater Allegheny

Search the University Libraries via LionSearch

Basic Search Tips

Start with keywords

Before you start searching the library's collections for good sources, identify about three key words or phrases that represent your topic. Also think about possible synonyms for these terms.

For example, let's say you want to look at the effects of funding cuts to music education in public schools. Your keywords might be: music education, public schools (or elementary schools, secondary schools, etc.), funding (or budget, appropriations, etc.), cuts (or reductions), outcomes (or impact, effects, etc.).

ProTip: If your keyword is more than one word, wrap it in quotation marks. This will tell the search tool to look for those words as a single phrase. For example, searching LionSearch for "music education" funding cuts yields a much more focused search than music education funding cuts does.

Your keyword list will evolve as you notice other terms that are more commonly used in the sources you find, or that can take your research in a new direction. But your original list will help you decide what to search for, and where.

Keyword connectors

The library's search tools recognize some words and symbols as keyword connectors. These connectors can be used to broaden or focus your search. Many of these connectors vary from one search tool to another, but there are a few that are almost universal.

ProTip: Some search tools only recognize a connector like AND or OR as such if it is written in ALL CAPS. Otherwise, it will search for the word as a keyword (which is not helpful when almost everything written in English includes the words "and" and "or"). So get in the habit of typing them in ALL CAPS when you use them.

The word OR tells the search tool to find sources that include either (or both) of the connected keywords. For example, a search for nittany OR lion would return articles about the nittany lion, along with a report on the geological history of Mt. Nittany, and a review of the Broadway version of The Lion King.

The word AND tells the database to find sources that include both of the connected keywords, which provides more focused results than you would get with OR. For example, a search for nittany AND lion would yield only articles that include both keywords.

ProTip: By default, LionSearch provides results that include all of your keywords, even if you don't type AND between them. But other search tools might give you results that contain any of your keywords, as though you connected them with OR.

However, some of the results of this search may mention Mt. Nittany and reports of lion spottings without ever using the term "Nittany lion." If you want only those articles that include this phrase, wrap it in quotation marks.

For more information on the keyword connectors you can use with a particular search tool, look for a Help link at the top or bottom of the search page.

Other search tips

  • Before you start scanning your search results, limit those results by publication date. Information gets old quickly, and you don't want to rely on outdated research.
  • If possible, sort your results by relevance rather than publication date. This will bring the best results to the top. And, if you've limited your results by publication date, everything will be new enough.
  • Most search tools also provide options to refine your search results in other ways (for example, scholarly sources or newspaper articles only). Use these to your advantage.
  • Many search tools assign subject terms to each source. Like hashtags, subject terms tell you what the source is all about - not just what words it contains. These can be useful for refining your search and supplementing your keywords list.
  • When you find a scholarly article that is especially relevant to your research, follow the citations to other good sources that the author used.
  • When you find a good source, make sure to copy-and-paste, print, save, or email yourself the citation.