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Rhetoric and Composition Research Guide

This is a reference list of resources so that you can conduct research within the field of writing and rhetoric.

Searching the Databases

  • Break your research topic/question into keywords. (Tip: many databases use specific terms to label documents. Use the "official" database terms for best results. Try the thesaurus or use subject headings)
  • Combine your keywords/search terms with Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).
  • Use parentheses with your terms and Boolean operators to build your search phrase.
    exp. (cat OR kitten) AND (wild OR feral OR homeless)

  • Determine your conditions (such as publication yeardocument type, or Peer Reviewed) and apply them to your search as limits or filters.
  • Use quotation marks (“ ”) around phrases to keep words together. Use this for an exact quote, phrase or order of the search term. exp. "latin america"
  • Use asterisks (*) to “fill-in-the-blank” at the end of a word (this is called truncation). The asterisk will be replaced by any applicable letters. (You can use asterisks as a shortcut for OR-ing words that have identical roots.) exp. paint* will search for paint, painting, painters, painterly, etc.

Each database may have different features that will expedite your searches.
Look at links and/or icons for these functions:

  • In some you can create a free account to save citations, searches, or research for later review.
  • Use the built-in citation generators
  • You can often e-mail citations or the full-text to yourself or a colleague.
  • See if the database allows you to export a citation directly into RefWorks or another bibliographic management program.

Use Boolean operators (the words AND, OR, and NOT) to combine your search terms.


  • Use AND when you want to include all of two or more terms together in the same search – use with independent concepts. AND will limit your results with each additional term.
  • Use OR when you want to include any of two or more terms in a search – use with related concepts. OR will expand your results with each additional term.
  • Use NOT when you want to exclude a term from your search. NOT will limit your results and is useful to avoid retrieving irrelevant items, but use NOT with caution! By excluding an item that briefly mentions the unwanted term, you might be excluding an otherwise useful resource.

You can use as many Boolean operators as you like in a search phrase, but include related concepts in parentheses to keep the phrase organized (this is called nesting). For example:

Dog OR Canine AND Bark NOT Tree: Messy

(Dog OR Canine) AND (Bark NOT Tree): Clear

For more information and practice exercises, see the Boolean searching guide by the Colorado State University Libraries.

Boolean Operators: Pirates vs. Ninjas

An introduction to the basics of Boolean operators. Created to support information literacy instruction at Lincoln Memorial University's Carnegie-Vincent Library.

from Westminster College

Tutorials & Videos on Searching