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Art & Art History

Information resources for research in Art and Art History

Create a Search Strategy


Choose search terms

Start to build a search strategy by determining search terms. Search terms or keywords can be people, events, theories, concepts, ideas, periods, movements, eras, places, techniques, media etc. Use terms that describe the concepts in the research question and their synonyms. You can consult a reference text, such as an encyclopedia, for additional background information and to identify additional terms.

For example, if you are interested in researching works created under the Federal Art Project, in addition to "Federal Art Project" some additional key words might be "Works Progress Administration", "New Deal", and "Great Depression."

You may have to test a few terms to see which terms retrieve the most relevant results. You can look at the subjects or keywords listed in the "details" section of your results for additional terms to try.

Boolean operators


Venn diagrams of Boolean Operators, AND, OR, and NOT, created by a librarian

Cecelia Vetter, CC BY-SA 4.0

AND includes both terms

Example: "Federal art project" AND "graphic design"

OR includes either term

Example: "Federal art project" OR "graphic design"

NOT excludes term*

Example: "Federal art project" NOT "graphic design"

*Note that NOT may exclude results with the term even if a result contains a search term you want included

Database syntax

Using database syntax can help you refine your search. For example using "double quotations" will narrow searches by searching only for that specific phrase rather than each individual term. Using truncation (*) or wildcard (?) can expand your search by expanding the scope of a single term. Note the wildcard (?) symbol doesn't work in Search@UW.

Symbol Use Function Example
"..." Double quotation marks Searches exact phrase "Federal Art Project"
* truncation Adds none or more characters art* searches art, arts, artist, artists, artistic, artesan, artful [but also articulate, article, etc]
? wildcard Adds none or one character wom?n searches "woman" and "women"

Different database platforms (i.e. EBSCO, ProQuest) may use different syntax. Review a more complete list of database syntax.

Building a search strategy


A search strategy (or search string) are the keywords, terms, and syntax used in your search. A typical search strategy includes 2-4 concepts, but may include more keywords.

For example, an initial search for information on female artists who participated in the federal arts project might be:

"federal art project" AND women

But you may want to expand your search to get results on artists in the Federal Art Project and all associated programs, but also narrow results to only female graphic artists. So instead you might try:

("federal art project" OR "works progress administration" OR "new deal") AND (female OR wom?n) AND (design OR art*)