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English / Spanish 334: Introduction to the Literature of Latin America II: Advanced Search Strategies

1. Introduction to Advanced Search Strategies

Each database has it's own quirks to learn, many of which are transferable to other databases with slight modifications. Knowing and using these strategies will help you make the best searches possible. Why would you want to do that? Conservation of effort! Less time typing up searches and scrolling through lists of mostly irrelevant articles, books, etc. It leaves you with more time to scan potentially useful sources, read and annotate sources, and write your paper.

The most common transferable search tips:


There are many useful ways to focus and narrow your search beyond using just the basic search tips. Here are a few:

  • Use the limit for only peer reviewed/scholarly articles
    • It removes most reviews while keeping the literary criticism
    • Looking for reviews? Try incorporating that word into your search
      • jorge AND luis AND borges AND limites AND review*
  • Start with a really basic search such as author name and title of work (no need to be super specific in case there are only a few critical essays about your chosen work)
    • jorge AND borges AND "milagro secreto"
  • Add a theme word or synonym to focus your search
    • "un dia de estos" AND marquez AND metafora*
    • "un dia de estos" AND marquez AND (metaphor* OR metafora*)
  • Find a lot of extraneous articles? Add "poe*" to remove those articles that do not include words such as: poesia, poetry, poems, poet, etc. in the title, abstract, subjects, and sometimes full text.
    • "un dia de estos" AND marquez AND poe*
  • Different languages
    • Most databases have some Spanish language articles in them, but Informe Académico has the most
    • Most databases let you limit by language; try limiting to English and Spanish articles, or even just Spanish
    • Spanish language titles may have been transliterated, but there is no need to worry about diacritics. Typing "n" will also find "ñ" and so forth
    • Spanish language titles may have been translated into English, so if you know the English title also search for that

2. Thesaurus Example (MLA)

When you are in a database such as MLA International Bibliography, you may see that there is a thesaurus. Thesauri like this one will help you  search by finding synonyms that are official subjects. Using subjects is a great way to find articles that focus on a topic instead of just including the search term(s) anywhere in the item's description.

NOTE: There are also useful autonomous online thesauri like  and

MLA Database landing page with Thesaurus highlighted

When you are in the thesaurus, search for what you think is a good search term. If there is a match, check the box preceding it. Next, click on the "Add" button to add it to your next database search.

Thesaurus search for political fiction find an official subject match. Click in the box preceding political fiction and...

If the subject is a link, click on it. You may find other subjects that would help you in your search. If so, check the box preceding them then click on the "Add" button like before.

In thesaurus selecting 'political novel' leads to narrower term 'political fiction'

3. Advanced Search (MLA)

Almost all databases have an "advanced search" option, which you should take advantage of. Some researchers actually find it easier to use the advanced search. Sure, it makes it easier to enter search terms in a variety of ways, but there are also usually special limits below the text boxes to hone down your search to just what you want.

The advanced search usually has multiple boxes to type in. You can choose exactly where and how you want your keywords to show up. Basic searches usually default to article title, journal title, and abstract text only. A few databases default to anywhere, like JSTOR.

Advanced Search with three text boxes

Scroll down after entering your search terms to see if there are more "limits" or "facets." The available categories may vary. In each category you can usually use the [CRTL] button on your keyboard to make multiple selections like you see here. Do not select "linked full text" or "full text only" limits because you will usually find MORE full text by NOT selecting them. This is because the "Find It" button/text will find you full text in other databases that have it, not just the one you're searching.

Limits for Linked full text, Publication, and Period

Limits for Publication date, Language, and Genre