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History Day: Search Tips

Research resources and help for students participating in History Day

search tips

This page has tips that will help you search more effectively and efficiently for sources.

Boolean Operators

These terms enable combinations of words (i.e. your keywords) to be searched at one time with different results, depending on the Boolean Operator used. 


venn diagram showing that you get back overlap if you use the Boolean Operator AND with your two keywords in a search

  • Using AND retrieves results containing both keywords (history AND America)
  • This narrows your results and brings back fewer results because they most contain both keywords


venn diagram showing that you get all the results back if you use the Boolean Operator OR between two keywords in searching

  • Using OR retrieves results containing at least one of the terms (history OR past)
  • As this is counter-intuitive to natural language that we use in everyday speech, if you get confused, consider this phrase: OR IS MORE


Venn Diagram showing that you only get results for the first keyword when you use the Boolean Operator Not

  • Using not retrieves results answers containing one term but not the other (archives NOT newspapers)
  • This is a good way to exclude terms that are coming up when you search, but do not relate to your topic


Search Strategies

  • Keywords are incredibly important for finding information on your topic
  • Think of synonyms for each part of your research topic
  • Play around with the keywords to find more information
  • Remember, the words you use to describe a topic might be different than the words an author/indexer uses, which is why you need to think of synonyms to use
Phrase Searching

If you are searching a phrase, like American Civil War, you will want to put your phrase in quotation marks (“American Civil War”) so that it will be searched as a phrase and not as separate words. 


Truncation enables multiple forms of words to be searched at one time. To capture all of them at once, you insert a truncation symbol after the root of the word. This principle works in many databases, although the symbol for truncation may differ from database to database.

For example, histor* would retrieve results with the terms: history, histories, historian, historians, etc.