Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Research Process: Searching

Tips from topic selection to evaluating sources to aid in the research process

Keywords and Indexing Terms

In order to get the most relevant articles from the library databases, take advantage of the indexing terms that sort all the articles into subject categories. Start your search with some keywords that would show up in your perfect article. Look at one that is on topic for you and hit the hyperlink to a subject category. 

Here are some tips to aid in your search:

1. Identify the key words in your topic and brainstorm a list of synonyms to increase your chances of finding relevant information.

2. Use the different field boxes in the search tools to maximize finding information (title, keyword, etc.)

3. Use the limiters in the database

  • Date Range
  • Material Type
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Full Text

4. Download this worksheet to help with brainstorming search terms. 

Boolean Operators Part 1

Boolean operators sit between the boxes in the database search boxes. But, you can manually enter them in a general search (outside of Advanced Search options in the databases or in any search engine e.g. Google). 

AND is the default. All search result articles will contain both keywords. For example, a search that looks like: lions AND wildlife will show results that contain both "lion" and "wildlife" keywords.

The OR operator will search for any article that contains at least one of the keywords. For example, a search that looks like: lions OR wildlife will show results that contain either "lions" or "wildlife" keywords.

The NOT operator will exclude the keyword(s). For example, a search that looks like: lions NOT tigers will show results that exclude the keyword "tigers."

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries

Use the Gale Virtual Reference Library to find an overview article on your topic. GVRL is the academic equivalent of Wikipedia. This is a great place to discover the big ideas in your topic, the controversies and the people involved. It is also a good place to browse topics to see what interests you enough to invest time and energy in researching and writing on the subject.

Boolean Operators Part 2

In addition to the AND, OR, and NOT Boolean Operators, there are other tricks you can use in your search strategy. These are quotations, truncation, and wild cards.

If you have multiple keywords that connect as a phrase, you can place them within quotation marks for database or internet browser search engines recognize them together. This means that the search will return any results where the two keywords (now a phrase) are together. For example, the word cub can refer to many different mammal offspring. By using "lion cub" in quotations as a phrase, your search will only return results that include lion cubs. 

Sometimes it can be tricky to catch all variations of a word in your search. In order to help you cast a wider net, you can use truncation. By placing an asterisk (*) at the end of a keyword in place of other letters, your keyword may now catch other forms and tenses of your original keyword. For example, if you were researching adolescents and wanted to use the synonym "teens," it might be smart to type: teen*. This search will capture related keywords such as teens, teenage, teenager, teenagers, and teenaged.

However, sometimes we aren't sure how to capture multiple forms of a keyword or even know what they might be, especially if a specific format is no longer in current use. This is where a wild card comes into play. If you know there is a common letter that is replaced for different spellings of a keyword, you can replace it with a question mark (?) or an asterisk (*). Some databases and search engines prefer the question mark or asterisk. For example, if you were researching women from a social perspective, you may want to use: wom?n. This search will capture related variations such as women, woman, womxn, and womyn.