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Visual Cultures: Search Tips

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Online Library Induction.

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Search Tips

Below are some methods and tips for choosing and combining keywords in the library catalogue, Library Search, the library's subscribed databases, or Google Scholar.

For a more detailed look at advanced search strategies try the Academic Skills Online tutorial or if you need help with searching a specific topic you can book an appointment with me or another Subject Librarian to discuss it.

Choosing Keywords

To identify relevant keywords for searching, it's a good exercise to try and write your research question in one or two sentences. 

Pick out the key concepts, theories, places or names. These are generally nouns. See the example here:

How do artists use embodiment and the haptic  in moving image work?

So as a starting point we might search for "embodiment" "haptic" and "moving image" in Library Search.

Note that you can put the terms "moving image" inside speech marks to search for the exact phrases, rather than the individual words separately. For more tips like this see the below section on Combining Keywords.

Synonyms and Related Terms

It can be useful to consider synonyms or related terms as alternative keywords in our search strategies. Let's look at out example search again:



Synonym or related word




Moving image







Pro tip: ProQuest databases have a list of subject-specific thesauri. EBSCO databases also have thesauri which can be accessed via the 'Subjects' link in the top toolbar.

Combining Keywords

Now that we have our keywords, synonyms and related terms we can look at how to combine them. The advanced search options in Library Search give us a form to combine our keywords using AND OR NOT, alternatively we can use the tips from the table below to write our search in a single line:

(automation OR algorithm) AND ("social inequality" OR "social mobility" OR "cultural capital") AND ("social media" OR "social networks" OR "user generated content")

The below table lists some useful 'operators' for combining search terms, how to use them and whether they work in Library Search or on Google.



Works in Library Search?

Works in Google?


“Quotation marks”

Searches for an exact phrase

example: “social justice”

Use quotation marks on a single word in Google to exclude synonyms

~ Tilde

Searches your term and synonyms

example: ~vegetarian AND "climate change" will also include results about the related term veganism

Be mindful that Google’s synonyms are generated by an algorithm. See also OR

* Wildcard

Searches for part of a word, e.g. postcolon* finds postcolonial, postcolonialism

In Library Search you can also use ? as a wildcard.


Narrows results to find resources that use both  terms, e.g. populism AND politics


Expand results to find resources that contain either  terms, e.g. sexism OR misogyny

In Google you can also use | , e.g. sexism|misogyny


Excludes a specific term, e.g. metaverse NOT facebook will hide resources mentioning facebook.

In Google use a minus instead, e.g. metaverse -facebook


Groups multiple terms or operators, e.g. (metaverse NOT facebook) AND (second life)

Using advanced search forms can be easier than multiple parentheses


Finds terms in within a certain amount of words from each other, e.g. Britain AROUND(8) reparations

Many databases use NEAR/x for this function, e.g. Britain NEAR/8 reparations


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Jessa Mockridge
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Subjects: Art, Design, Visual Cultures

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