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POLS 1010: Politics in the United States

Updated Fall 2022. Dr. Linda Trautman.

Words Matter

Imagine you are doing research for this assignment: Research and discuss how social media affected voter engagement in the 2016 election.

  • Think about the terms you would use for your search.
  • Think about how many ways you can express similar ideas with different words.
    • example: social media; online network; online communication; specific sites like Twitter
    • The words don't have to be exact synonyms, they just need to be words that will get at the idea you're researching.
  • Create a list of synonyms for each important word/idea.
  • Compile the list to use when you search for articles.
    • See the box below for how to combine words with Boolean operators.
    • Your search can be simple: "social media" AND "voter engagement" AND 2016
    • Your search can be more advanced: ["social media" OR twitter OR facebook] AND ["voter engagement" OR "voter turnout"] AND 2016 AND [president*]
      • NOTE--the brackets represent individual search boxes in your database.


Combining terms for searches (AKA Boolean)

The words AND/OR/NOT (sometimes called Boolean) can be used to group sets of search terms together in a meaningful way; which will improve the quality of your search results because you are customizing the results to suit your specific needs/topic.


Use AND to reduce the number of items found by letting the database "know" that these two concepts (safety and water) must be together.  For example: this search on water AND safety in ArticlesPlus finds fewer items than either water or safety alone. Plus, the true context of your topic is not represented.
Use AND between two concepts to glue the ideas together, thus minimizing your results.


Use OR to combine synonymous or alternate terms and increase the number of results. For example: the search water AND safety AND (Ohio OR West Virginia) in ArticlesPlus finds less items than before, but more than searching either water AND safety AND Ohio or water AND safety AND West Virginia. 
using OR to expand your search to use synonyms- ohio OR west virginia


Use NOT to exclude a specific concept from your results. For example: this search on water AND safety AND (Ohio OR West Virginia) NOT lead in ArticlesPlus finds less items because it is excluding any results with the word "lead". In other words, I want materials about water safety in two states that are not about lead.
NOT eliminates a concept from your results

Be a more efficient and effective researcher!

Each database/resource will have a different vibe or look, but here are some tips for enhancing your searching to get better results, faster.

Subjects: Political Science