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Search Strategies

Search Basics

A basic search is constructed using keywords, which combined form your query. The keywords you choose to include in your query will have a direct result on the search results.

Keys to conducting a good search include:

· Do some background research on your research topic to gather potential keywords and phrases. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauri and other reference materials will be helpful in learning the terminology used by professionals writing in the field.

· Conduct multiple types of searches. A keyword search will generally provide the most results, but not all results will be necessarily on topic. Try using a subject search, or try limiting your search by date or format. Most library databases have advanced search pages, which allow you to adjust your search settings. Or, you can limit your search by filtering results of a basic keyword search.

· Try searching a broad topic and then narrow down the search field by using subject suggestions within the search results or by using the 'search within feature' of your initial results when searching a database.

· Search multiple locations and look for a variety of sources. The library catalog houses many formats including e-books, streaming videos, DVDs, reference books & circulating books. The library also subscribes to many academic databases, both broad in scope and subject specific.

· Combine words and phrases using the search strategies in this guide. Keep track of which terms you have searched, and of which combinations draw better results.

· Copy or save citations as you search for easier resource retrieval later. Using free citation software, such as MyBib, can help keep you organized and make it easier to keep track of your sources.

These tips apply to all types of searching, whether you are using the library catalog, an academic database, or a search engine like Google.

If you need assistance, or feel a little lost – be sure to ask for help!

Advanced Search Strategies

Boolean Operators

One of the easiest ways to refine your search is to use the Boolean operators. The three most common Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT, but there are others available. The operators AND and NOT will narrow your search and OR will usually increase your search results. (The AND operator is not necessary in Google; Google automatically adds the AND between words unless a phrase is put in quotation marks.)

The chart below explains differences between the Boolean operators.

Boolean operator




· Narrows search result

· Finds articles/websites with both terms in them. Terms may not necessarily be next to each other

"global warming" AND hurricane* (retrieves articles with both terms)


· Broadens search result

· Use to combine similar terms. One or the other search term must appear in the article/website

· Put parentheses around your ORs

"global warming" OR "greenhouse effect" (retrieves articles with either term)


· Narrows search result

· Use to eliminate terms from search

"global warming" NOT Antarctica (eliminates articles that have the word Antarctica in them)

Phrase searching

Most of the databases and search engines will AND the words of a phrase together. If you wish to search the term as a phrase, put quotation marks around it to refine your search.

identity theft = identity AND theft

“identity theft” keeps the words of the phrase together


Most databases use the asterisk * to truncate words. For example, child* will search for the words child or child’s or children. Another example is listed below.

develop* = develop + develops + development + developmental

Google automatically looks for the singular and plural of a word.

Combining some of the skills together

Some examples:

(dog OR dogs OR canine*) AND (therapy OR service)

(ipad OR tablet) AND (evaluat* OR review*)



Filtering is your friend! Use it to narrow down your search to a specific time frame, publication type, or subject. Some health sciences databases even have the ability to narrow results to specific population, or only those labeled evidence-based practice.


The process of conducting research in an academic database can be similar to searching the web in that one initial search can lead you down a rabbit hole of other related information. Most databases link subjects, authors, and sources within any given journal article. Selecting a linked subject or reference can lead you down a path that you might not have discovered by simply typing in a search term and selecting from the listed results. 

Auto-Complete and Search Suggestions

Many academic databases offer auto-complete or search suggestion features, similar to web search engines. When you begin typing a phrase, the database may provide related terms that are relevant to your search. These related terms correlate to content within the database and can offer clues to honing in on a good set of search terms.

Search Game Plan

Before you start searching, consider the types of information that your project or assignment will require, and do some search term brainstorming to help guide your search. Use this Research Game Plan as a guide to help you plan your search.

Where to start your search

Once you've got a game plan, it's time to begin your search.