Unlike Google, library databases often don't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the keywords. Below are some literary-specific types of keywords:
Use the word AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.
AND lets you make demANDs with your search.
This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.
Use the word OR to expand your search with additional keywords.
OR gives you mORe.
This search will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.
Another suggestion is to try using the asterisk symbol ( * ). The asterisk is useful when you have word variations. Place the asterisk symbol at the end of the part of the word all of the variations share.
This search will find sources that include poet, poets, poetry, poetics, poetical, etc.
Try combining some of your related keywords together.
Also, be efficient by choosing to combine literary types of keywords effectively. Below are examples:
Try searching with subject terms. These are like standardized words and phrases used to describe the intellectual contents of a particular book, article, or film. Think of subject terms as official hashtags.
Find subject terms included on the information page of each book, article, or film in a library catalog or database. Many subject terms are linked, so you can select the link to find additional items with the same subject term. Or, you can copy and paste the subject term in a new search with additional keywords.
Also, in the MLA International Bibliography database, you can search by the name of the author and/or text you are examining. Use the drop-down menu and select SA Primary Subject Author and/or SK Primary Subject Work.
Use "quotation marks" to search for a group of words in an exact order, such as a proper name, text title, or meaningful phrase.
This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase (instead of individual words). Very useful when novels or poems have seemingly generic words in their titles.
Most library databases have search tools built in. Try some of these:
Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!