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Searching in the MLA International Bibliography

Keyword Searching

Open the MLA International Bibliography and Choose Advanced Search. From this screen, you can enter your search terms in the search boxes to perform a keyword search. If you cannot find what you are looking for, you may decide to move to more refined searching as discussed later. The Advanced Search screen below shows a keyword search for "sylvia plath" and "imagery." These search terms are combined with "and" to ensure results will include both "sylvia plath" and "imagery."

Advanced search screen (search box area)

Limiting a Search

Before clicking on Search, it may be necessary to refine or limit. Since the database scope is international, you may want to limit your results to English or another language. Other helpful limiters include Publication Type, Period, Genre, and Peer Reviewed.

Publication Type:
This limiter allows you to restrict results to books, journal articles, or other types.
This limiter allows you to restrict results by specific time period.
This limiter allows you to restrict results by specific genre such as poetry, fiction, saga, etc.
Peer Reviewed:
This limiter will restrict results to only peer-reviewed publications that have gone through an evaluation by scholars and researchers in the field prior to being accepted for publication.

Limiters in MLA (lower section of advanced search screen)

The sample keyword search has been limited in two ways:


  1. English language
  2. Peer-reviewed sources

Searching from the Thesaurus (Subject Headings)

Keyword searching will retrieve results that contain your search terms, although the results may not be about your search terms. Searching from the thesaurus may provide you with more relevant results that are on target with your search terms. The thesaurus can also be helpful for finding broader, related, or narrower terms.

MLA thesaurus screen

To access the thesaurus, click on the Thesaurus link near the top of the screen.


Type your search term in the Browsing box and click Browse. A list of terms will appear below.

For the sample search at the left, the word "imagery" was entered. "Imagery" is the first word in the list that appears.

Adding a term from the thesaurus

To search for a term from the thesaurus, follow these steps:


  1. Check the box next to the term.
  2. Click on Add. You should see your term appear in the Find field with the code DE in front of it. DE stands for descriptor, a term you may encounter in other databases.
  3. Click on Search.

Searching from the Thesaurus: Combining Terms

Searching from the thesaurus, especially when combining terms, can be a bit confusing until you do it a few times. You can practice learning the techniques with the steps below from a sample search. For this search, we are looking for criticism on female characters created by women novelists.

  1. Click on the Thesaurus link.
  2. In the "Browsing" box type female characters and click on Browse.
  3. Place a check in the box next to female characters and click Add.
  4. In the "Browsing" box type women novelists and click Browse.
  5. Place a check in the box next to women novelists.
  6. Before clicking Add, change the "or" to "and" and then click Add.
  7. Click on Search to retrieve the list of results.

Other Uses of the Thesaurus

As mentioned above, the thesaurus can also help you find related, narrower, and broader terms. This can be especially helpful if you are receiving too few or too many results.

Detail of record in the thesaurus

Many, but not all, terms in the thesaurus will be linked to records like the one to the left for imagery.


After clicking on the link for the term, you will find a listing of Broader, Narrower, and Related Terms.

For imagery, we can see that figures of speech is considered a Broader Term and alchemical imagery is a narrower term.

Using Names as Subjects

Another way to search in MLA is by using the Names as Subjects index. Searching this way will retrieve results of criticism about a particular author.

Names as Subjects screen

To access Names as Subjects, click on the link near the top of the screen.


Type your search term in the Browsing box and click on Browse.

In the example to the left, note that the author Albert Camus was searched for using the format of "last name, first name" or Camus, Albert.

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