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IDIS 151 Honors Experiencing Appalachia

About This Guide

This Research Guide is designed to provide resource suggestion and research help related to the IDIS 151 Honors Experiencing Appalachia project.

This guide covers:

  • How to get additional help from a librarian
  • Using keywords for research
  • Primary and secondary source types, and their relative availability
  • Suggested Library resources to search
  • Information about requesting sources through Interlibrary Loan

Getting Help

Contact a Research Librarian

Using Keywords for Research

Why do keywords matter?

Keywords (or search terms) are single words or short phrases that describe the core concepts of your topic.

It's important to use keywords, especially when searching library databases, because library database search engines are not designed to pick out the most important words from an entire sentence.

Examples of keywords to use. Example topic - 19th century Appalachian crops:

  • Crop: corn, apple or apples, wild mushrooms, etc.
  • The region: Appalachia or Appalachian
  • Time period: Civil War, World War 1
  • Factors: weather, industrialization, finances

Expanding your search vocabulary

Developing alternative keywords is especially helpful when searching library databases. In the same what that library database search engines can't identity the most important concepts in a full sentence, they also (generally) aren't able to automatically search for synonyms of your search terms in the text. (Google CAN do this, which is why Google is very helpful when you are first starting your research and looking for alternative keywords!)

Alternative keywords can be:

  • Spelling variations or plural form of a word - apple vs apples
  • Alternative names for the same place or event - Appalachia vs Appalachian, or World War 1 vs The Great War. This can be important when searching primary sources as, like with WW1, people may have called something by a different name during the time period in which it took place.
  • Broader or related concepts - for example corn and apples were often used to create alcohol, so searching for moonshine, cider, and applejack may bring up additional resources; similarly with location, searching for specific states may bring up additional resources vs searching Appalachia; when it comes to time period try searching for 19th century or early 20th century to encompass the time period

Searching is never a "one-and-done" process! You will have to try a combination of different keywords, in different resources to find sufficient sources. As you search, note alternative keywords that you come across and try another search using those.

Tips and tricks for using keywords in library databases

Phrase search

Library databases generally search for the exact words you enter. This means, if you enter a phrase, such as Civil War, it will search for each term separately, civil and war.

To let the database know you are looking for a phrase, put it in quotation marks. This tells the database to search for the exact phrase as it occurs between the quotes. Use this only for common phrases and names, otherwise you may get zero results.

Example: "civl war"

Alternative keywords

You can search for alternative keywords in a single search by using OR between the words. This tells the database to bring back results with either word. This is useful for plurals, alternate spellings or names, or broader concepts.

Example: corn OR moonshine OR cornbread

About Source Types

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sources: sources that were created in the time period you are investigating that are considered “first hand” accounts such as newspapers, diaries, and interviews. Oral history interviews are another type of primary source, though they may not be created in the time period you are investigating, they often feature first hand accounts from people sharing stories and traditions passed down 

Secondary sources: sources that use primary (or other secondary) sources to summarize, synthesize, and analyze a topic or issue. Authors of secondary sources generally do not have first hand experience with the topic or time period and create secondary sources based on their own research.

A note about the availability of sources

You can only find what exists. Depending on the topic, there may not be vast amounts of primary or secondary source research, especially if it revolves around a place, group of people, or practice that has been overlooked or marginalized by society.

You may also be limited by what is easily accessible, especially when it comes to primary sources, which are usually kept in archives and special collections. These sources may not be available digitally, either due to legal restrictions or the time and money it takes to digitize and host these resources online.

Library Resources to Try


OneSearch - search box on the library homepage (

  • Search almost all library databases plus the book catalog at once.

Specific Library Databases to Try

Full A-Z List of Library Databases

Organizing Your Research Worksheet

Research Worksheet

Getting Resources Through Interlibrary Loan

About Interlibrary Loan

Interlibrary Loan lets you request resources, including books and articles, that are not available through the Ort Library. You can request sources you find through the library or online.

FAQs About Interlibrary Loan