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English 466: Modern British and American Poetry: Search Strategies

Search Strategies

. Locate Primary Sources in Databases
Add words that indicate primary source types to your search topic.

Search Examples:

T. S. Eliot AND letters
Gwendolyn Brooks AND interview 
Modernism AND Sources


2. Locate Peer-reviewed Articles/Chapters in Databases
Most important: Select databases that offer peer-reviewed articles, chapters, and books. See the Peer-Reviewed Tab on this research guide. Use the REFINE or LIMIT function to search scholarly/peer-reviewed sources.

Search Examples:
Symbolism AND Yeats
Modernism AND aesthetics
Modernism AND war trauma
(Women or gender) AND modernism AND poetry


3. Locate sources exploring historical and cultural contexts. 
You can add the names of the historical or cultural events and of individuals, groups, or movements to your search words. 

Search Examples:

"American modernism" AND World War I
"The New Negro" AND W. E. B. Dubois 
"Harlem Renaissance" AND Langston Hughes 

4. Take note of new Subjects and Keywords That Interest You
You will discover them in citation descriptions of articles, books, chapters. They help us expand our knowledge and clue us to the right language to translate our thoughts and ideas into, thus leading to more successful searches.   

Subject Words Examples:

Modernism (Literature)
Modernism (Literature) -- United States

World War, 1914-1918 -- Literature and the war

Death in literature

Psychic trauma in literature

American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism
Literature and society -- History -- 20th century

Search Statements

Translate Thoughts/Ideas/Topics into Search Statements

The following techniques will help you create more effective search statements.
  1. AND -- To narrow down/refine a topic by combining keywords

    Modernism AND Poetry
    "American Modernism" AND "war trauma"  
  2. OR -- Nested search to include synonyms or related words

    (poem or poetry)           
    (The New Negro or the Harlem Renaissance) 
    (war trauma OR violence)
  3. NOT--Use NOT to exclude words in a search

    Modernism NOT Ezra Pound 
  4. "   " -- Use double quotes to search a topic as a phrase 

    "British modernism"
    "The Harlem Renaissance"
  5. *  -- Use the asterisk (or wildcard) to truncate letters after the truncation mark

    edit* -> editor, editing, editors 
    sex* -> sexes, sexism, sexual, sexuality

Analyzing Your Topic

Be Elastic. Be Specific. 

Both are necessary. Research is a fluid, creative and elastic process. For example, you can narrow down your topic when it is too broad or when you find too much information. Using specific words can make your search results more precise. You can expand, refine, and revise your search words when you do not find enough information or the right kind of information. Always, pay attention to new keywords and subject words that you will discover in the book or article citation/description. Add them to your notes. You may be surprised that your essay will miraculously grow from your words, thoughts, and notes, over time.

Analyze Your Topic

1. What is your topic?
 Your topic can be words, phrases, or questions. Any idea is worth exploring. 

2. Clarity
Are the words in the topic vague or clear? What words would be more clear?

3. General/Specific
Is the topic too general? What words/concepts would be more specific?

4. Broad/Narrow
Is your topic too broad?
How can you narrow down your topic so it is more focused?

5. Break down complex topics
If your topic is complex and convoluted, break down the topic into several smaller topic areas.