Jessup Playbooks Logo

ENG 111 & 112 Course Playbook

This playbook contains resources and information for ENG 112 students and faculty.

Selecting useful keywords

Save time and frustration by learning how to search effectively using keywords.

  • For best results, stick to concrete nouns that directly relate to your topic.
  • To find this type of keyword,  read an overview of your topic before you start looking for articles. 
  • Best sources for topic overviews are encyclopedias and books.
  • Learn how to come up with keywords for searches.


  • Your topic is smoking and you are interested in learning about the effects of smoking.
  • Most students' natural instinct is to search for something like this: smoking effects
  • However, "effects" is not a useful keyword, because it can be tied to virtually every topic you can think of. The same can be said of other keywords students often use, such as relationship, pros and cons, and others.
  • Words such as "effects" will water down your results list and provide a lot of irrelevant results, and this leads to student frustration, because students feel there's nothing useful in the database.
  • To find better keywords, start by reading an overview of the topic (in this case, smoking), such as this article from the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.
  • From this one source, you will learn that smoking
    • increases the risk of getting heart disease
    • increases the chance of getting lung cancer
    • increases the chance of getting emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, high blood pressure, stroke, and other conditions
  • So now, instead of using a vague word  like "effects," you can use concrete, useful keywords that refer to specific effects that directly relate to your topic of smoking : heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, high blood pressure, stroke.
  • Now you can design much more targeted database searches by using your topic keyword (smoking), and one or more of the targeted, topic-specific keywords (lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, etc.)

Formatting your search with Boolean operators (AND,NOT,OR)

  • Format your database search like this
    • topic AND keyword
      • smoking AND lung disease
      • smoking AND asthma
  • To get even more results, format your search like this:
    • topic AND (keyword OR keyword)
      • smoking AND (lung cancer OR emphysema)
  • Make sure to keep the words AND and OR in the search


Now your results will be much more targeted than if you had just searched using the vague word "effects."


ResearchMinute Video: Boolean Operators

Watch this video to learn how to target and refine your database and search engine searches by using Boolean operators.