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ENG 674: Research in Life Writing: Library Catalogs & Databases

Library Links

Using Subject Terms

Subject terms (also referred to as subject headings) are official terms assigned to literary works that describe subjects, ideas, or attributes of the work. "Life writing" is an accepted term in many online databases, but it is not an official subject term per the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). So it's important to also include some of the following related terminology (as relevant) when searching in library catalogs and databases:

  • autobiography
  • memoir
  • autobiographical fiction

Other subject terms you might add include descriptions of the format of the work, cultural context, or general subject matter. For example:

  • comic book
  • letters
  • feminism
  • music
  • gender identity
  • graphic novel
  • diary
  • astronauts

Catalog and Database Tips

  1. Enter distinct concepts into separate search fields and use the drop-down menu after each field to narrow the scope of your search.screenshot of advanced search fields. subject terms selected from scoping drop down to limit search to only subject terms
  2. Pay attention to the subject terms associated with various results and integrate relevant terms as keywords in your search.
    screenshot of result book. linked subject terms are located directly after the book's brief description.

Search Syntax

The following search syntax will allow you to focus or broaden your search in virtually any search environment:

General Conventions

"Quotation Marks"

Enclose single concepts that contain multiple words in quotation marks. For example:

  • "life writing"
  • "comic book"
  • "autobiographical fiction"

Truncation *

Type an asterisk (*) at the end of a word root to search all variations on the root. For example:

A search for partner* will yield results with partners, partnership, partnerships, partnering, etc.

Boolean Operators


Use to connect independent concepts that are essential to your search. For example:

autobiography AND music AND "graphic novel"


Use to connect synonyms and related terms to broaden your search. For example:

autobiography OR memoir OR "life writing"


Use to exclude all resources from your search results that mention a specific term. For example:

The search music NOT bluegrass will exclude any work that mentions the word "bluegrass" from your results.