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History: Searching for content: your strategy

1. What are you looking for?

Before you get started, take some time to clarify what you are looking for. This will be your search strategy and will help you clarify your topic and save you time when searching for content.

Write down your topic in one or two sentences.

2. What are your keywords?

From the sentence(s) outlining your topic, identify around 3 keywords.

Here is an example topic: Press coverage of the Spanish Civil War in Ireland

The keywords are:

  • Press coverage
  • Spanish Civil War
  • Ireland

3. Can you think of other keywords?

Your search will be more effective of you can add other keywords to your search strategy. Adding other keywords can broaden your search or refine it, depending on what works best for your topic

I have added keywords to our example search strategy:

Press coverage Newspapers OR correspondents OR news reports OR propaganda 
Spanish Civil War Spain OR Fascism OR Franco OR Communism OR repression
Ireland Irish

4. How do your keywords work together?

You can now combine your keywords using operators AND, OR or NOT (Boolean logic). 

So you could search:

  1. "press coverage" OR newspapers - results will include any of these words
  2. "press coverage" AND newspapers  - only results which contain both search terms will be returned 
  3. "press coverage" NOT newspapers - only results which do not mention newspapers will be returned (be careful with this one!)


Your search could look like this:

"press coverage" OR newspapers


Spain OR "Spanish Civil War"


Ireland OR Irish

5. Other tips

Using "double quotation marks" around words or a phrase that works together will refine your search. Most databases will build in an AND between the words you type in. If I search for "Spanish Civil War" this conflict will be the main focus of my results. 

Using an asterisk * after a truncated word will return any number of letters after the asterisk. So, child* will return child, children, childhood etc. Use this when you need to be sure you are not missing variations of a particular word

6. Other parameters

Consider the context of your topic. The other parameters of our example search are place and time: Ireland during the years of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

This is important for refining your secondary material and for identifying primary sources.