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Criminal Justice and Criminology

Keyword Search Strategies Handout

Your Search Tool Kit

One thing to start out with is to make sure you know what you are actually searching. The WSU Libraries Catalog "Search It" has multiple scopes so you could be searching everything (the default) or you can limit your search using a drop-down menu to books, or stuff available at the Pullman campus only, etc.  Databases and catalogs generally have facets, or limiters that if selected restrict your results - for example, to peer reviewed articles only, or things published since 2005.

Second, keep in mind your Library Database Search Toolkit:

Truncation - use (usually, but not always) an asterisk to get plurals and variants: theor* will get theories, theory, theorize, etc. (Some databases may use different symbols, i.e. an exclamation mark (!). If you are unsure, look for a Help or Search Tips link within your database.

Phrase searching - enclose specific terms in quotation marks so they will be searched together so you are less likely to get irrelevant results. Don't make your phrase too specific, and make sure you don't have typos! "broken windows" theor*              

  • NOTE: Most databases (but not all) will allow you to truncate inside of a phrase (i.e. "broken window*").

Field Searching - Searching text specifically in database record fields, i.e. Subject/Descriptor/Identifier, Title, Abstract, Author, etc. 

Operators and Grouping: Use the AND and OR operators to get a better search. OR expands your search by letting you look for multiple terms, i.e. synonyms. AND narrows your results because you are looking for results that have both or all your terms so that your results include all concepts being searched and so are likely to be more relevant for your needs:

Simple Search (only one search box) - Use parentheses to group multiple concept terms. Note: I did spell out united states, but the text box cut it off ;-) Please note that in both examples I didn't use the asterisk (*) to search for plurals and variants, so my search could be improved.

example of a simple search: ("capital punishment" OR "death penalty") united states


Advanced Search Box (multiple search boxes) - Parentheses are not needed because each concept has its own search box. In this case there is a default AND between boxes, but clicking the down arrow in the box that says "contains" would let you change your operator.


top line: "capital punishment" OR "death penalty" - next line: United States



Searching the Web: Advanced Web Search screencast

Evaluating Articles (Books Too!)

The video on the Finding and Getting Articles tab included some examples of evaluating scholarly articles, but this process may help you as well. It's useful for any information source, including books and websites.

A Three-Stage Evaluation Process: Making sure that you identify items that are appropriate for your literature review or other parts of your research proposal:

1.   Aboutness – immediate scan of title and abstract (i.e. is it a research study? How old is the article? Does it look relevant to you? )

2.   Practical Skim– requires longer skim of abstract and actual article – doing it as you find the article may save you time/effort – can also do after you’ve saved/printed the article (hint: if the article lets you see the text as a HTML file, you can skim it more easily that way - but if you decide to download it, be sure to download the PDF version)

  •  Language ; type of article (i.e. peer reviewed versus popular ;  source (i.e country) ; author(s); setting ; date of pub; participants/subjects ; content (topic, variables) ; program/intervention ; research design (i.e. sophisticated quantitative modeling versus qualitative research, i.e. interviews or a survey )
  •  sampling ; date of data collection ; duration of data collection ; funding source

 3.   Going deeper: content and methodological quality, rigor – requires a close read of the research article; things you are learning in your class or in future


For additional information, see this Evaluating Information library guide - in addition to the links you will see, be sure to click the drop-down menu as shown  to see more resources.

screenshot of the Evaluating Information subtab in the Information Literacy Research Skill Building library guide


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