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How to Do Research

Search Strategy Tips

Search Tips for better results:

1. Use two or three keywords rather than a complete sentence. Example:

TOPIC: I'm interested in finding articles on the importance of photosynthesis to global ecosystem.

KEYWORDS: photosynthesis --- plants – oxygen --- light --- carbon dioxide

The other words do not relate to the core concepts of the research question and are not effective keywords.

 

2. Use quotation marks " " when you want to search for a key phrase. Example:

"social media" or organizational behavior

 

3. Too few or poor results? Use synonyms and related terms to find different results. Example:

"education" in place of "learning"

“resistance training” in place of “strength training"

 

4. Use Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT) between your keywords or key phrases.  See the Boolean Operators box on this page for more information.  

Truncation / Wildcard Symbols

Truncation symbol, [an asterisk (*), dollar sign ($), or plus sign (+), etc.], with the root/stem of a word broadens your search to include various wording endings:

child*=child or children or childhood

 

Wildcard symbols ? or #

The question mark (?) may also be used to replace a single character to include different spellings.  For example:

wom?n for woman or women

The pound/hash sign (#) can be added in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character. The database will find instances of the word that appear with or without the extra character.  For example:

colo#r for color or colour

Some databases use different symbols so check the searching help in the database you are using.

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Examples:

Maximize your search by combining these tools:

olympi* AND athlet*  

Wildcard + truncation + Boolean:

wom?AND (equal* OR rights) 
AND
 (work* OR employ*)

 

Truncation/wildcard symbols can vary from database to database; check the database you are searching to verify which symbols are used. 

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Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Boolean Operators

Use AND, OR, & NOT with your keywords or key phrases for more focused searches.

Link your keywords, phrases, and synonyms in a search string with AND, OR, NOT. These are called Boolean Operators. For best results, use all caps with AND, OR, NOT.

 

Narrow results with AND:  
"social media" AND anxiety AND teenager
Use AND between your keywords to get all the keywords in your results.

 

Widen results with OR: 
anxiety OR depression
Use OR when you have synonyms, related terms, or alternate keywords.

 

Use Parentheses to combine AND and OR in a search string: 
"social media" AND (anxiety OR depression)

"social media" AND (anxiety OR depression) AND (teenager OR adolescent)

 

Remove results with NOT: 
Instagram NOT Facebook 
[Caution: this can remove results that are primarily about Instagram but have one mention of Facebook.]

 

Pro Tip:
Look for the Advanced Search option when searching in library resources.  It will help you build your Boolean Search by giving you multiple search boxes with AND between each box. 

Boolean Operators

Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics

The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search. It is a small set using AND, the combination of all three search words.

Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied. 

  • For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between your search terms.
  • Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
  • For example, this search:  college students test anxiety  is translated to:  college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records.
  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific.
  • For example:  "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be.

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a big set because any of those words are valid using the OR operator.

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms
  • example:  cloning NOT sheep