Searching and research are skills you learn. Librarians can help you improve the search skills you already have. Here are some quick ones you can try.

Research checklist:

Make sure you know what you need before starting your research

Research Checklist (MSWord)

Research Checklist (PDF)

Research Checklist (GoogleDoc)

Narrowing you research topic:

It’s fine to start with a very broad topic. After doing some research you’ll see ways to narrow your topic, but here are some tips.

  • Identify the main terms, themes, or ideas that come up in the sources on your topic.
  • What are the Who, What, Where, When, How, and Whys around your topic? Combine some of these to create a narrowed topic.
  • Choose one aspect of your topic to look at.
  • Is there a point of view or voice that has been left out of the sources you’ve found?


These are the words you type into a search box. The words you put in these search boxes affect what the search will bring back. Think of these as hashtags for what you are looking for.

Our searches are looking for words and phrases in, or attached to the information about, sources that match what you typed in the search box. The simpler the better. 

If you wanted to find articles for your research on the effects of technology on dating in the United States, you would use the keywords: dating, technology, United States.

Be prepared to adjust these keyword by:

Using less of them or more of them

  • Ex: just searching dating

Using different ones

  • Ex: changing dating to Interpersonal relationship, or technology to apps

Add in some magic words and symbols:


By adding AND (all caps) between keywords you are telling the search box to bring you back sources that contain both keywords in the source.

This narrows your search results

Ex: Cats AND dogs 

  • Sources where both cats and dogs are mentioned.


By adding OR (all caps) between keywords you are telling the search box to bring back sources with either keyword.

This broadens your search results.

Ex: Cats OR dogs

  • Sources where both cats and dogs are mentioned
  • Sources on cats
  • Sources on dogs


By adding NOT (all caps) between keywords you are telling the search box to exclude sources that contain the word directly after NOT.

This narrows your search results

Cats NOT dogs

  • Sources on cats which do not mention dogs

“  “

By adding quotes around a phrase you are telling the search box to find sources that contain that exact phrasing. This can be helpful for compound words like golden retriever

Golden retriever

We humans see this as one thing (a golden retriever dog), but the search box will see this as two different keywords (golden and retriever). Our results may have stuff on golden retriever dogs but they will also have stuff on the golden rule, golden opportunity, stent retrievers, Labrador retrievers, etc. Adding the quotes around “golden retriever” will get rid of all the extra golden and retriever results.


Adding an asterisk to a word acts as a wildcard. It will find sources with the word you typed but allow for variations where the * has been placed.


  • Sources about women and woman


  • Sources about motivate, motivates, motivation, motivational, etc.

Where you look:


        This searches everything the library has (URSUS and the databases). As a result it might be too much information all at once. It is good for testing your keywords.


        This is the library catalog for items USM, UMaine, and a few other libraries have on their shelves. This also includes digital things like eBook, eJournals, and streaming audio and video.

Subject Guides

        Find the right database for your search based on the subject. Our librarians have created these guides with lots of subject specific resources for you to use. These are a great way to get familiar with our resources. 

 Getting Books & Articles

There are many ways you can get research materials from USM Libraries.

  • From URSUS, use the Request button with a red check mark at the top of an item’s page, or the gray Request It button next to the item.
  • For eBooks, click on the USM Access link in the record.
  • From MaineCat, use the Request button with a red check mark in the middle of an item’s page.
  • From a database, click the PDF button. The placement of this button varies by database.
    • Some databases have you click the “Article Linker” button (the placement will vary by database).
    • If the library does not have access to the item, find and click the “Submit an Interlibrary Loan Request” link under Step 3 in the right panel.
  • For items not available at USM Libraries, UMaine, or MaineCat, use Interlibrary Loan to request books, book chapters, and articles.
Need more help finding something?