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Library Research Help: Search Tips

Learn how to use Library resources during the research process.

Search Tips

There are advanced search techniques, or operators, that can be helpful, and even fun, to use. The way that you utilize these operators can change from database to database so be sure to look at the advanced search information for each database you use. The main two are truncation and boolean searching. 

Truncation and Wildcard

Truncation searching allows you to search for a term and variant spellings of that term. 

To truncate a search term, do a keyword search in a database, but remove the ending of the word and add an asterisk (*) to the end of the word. The database will retrieve results that include every word that begins with the letters you entered. Depending on the database, instead of *, you may use #. It is recommended you look at the search tips for that database to learn the proper truncation symbol to use.

For example:
interact* will search for interact, interacting, interaction, and interactivity.

 

Wildcard searching allows you to search for a word spelled in multiple ways using a symbol.

To use wildcard, you would type the word and put in the wildcard symbol (?) where the spelling could be differnt.

For example:
col?r
 will search for color and colour.

Wildcard and Truncation Video Tutorial

Boolean Searching

For more precise searching, connect your keywords in a meaningful way using the words ANDOR, and NOT.

Think of these connecting words as a bridge between keywords or concepts which allows you to narrow or broaden your search. 

Using AND narrows your search.

The more keywords you connect with AND, the fewer results you will retrieve. The database will need to find each of your keywords in the text in order to show it to you.

For example:  
"homeless youth" and education and "new york city"

Be careful not to add unnecessary words to AND searches. You might miss pertinent information. Sometimes the simpler the search, the better.

Using OR broadens your search.

Here we are less picky with what terms we want to retrieve. Using OR is also helpful when we are searching for a concept that is described equally well by more than one term.

For example: 
cars OR automobiles
environment AND (water OR lake* OR river* OR stream*)

Here the first search is asking for all information pertaining to cars or automobiles.

The second search is a little more detailed, but more precise.

Using NOT will narrow your search.

This type of search is good to use when you already know what you DO NOT want. Let's say you are doing a search on new cars but you are only interested in American made models.

For example:  
eating disorders NOT anorexia
(cars OR automobiles) NOT Europe.

Boolean Video Tutorial

Good, Better, Best

Good: 

  • nurse AND education
  • advertising AND children
  • genetic engineering AND ethics

Better:

  • nurs* AND education
  • advertis* AND child*
  • gene* engineering AND ethic*

Best:

  • nurs* AND (educat* OR train* OR school*)
  • (advertis* OR market*) AND (child* OR adoles*)
  • gene* AND (alter* OR engineer*) AND (ethic* OR moral*)
*BE CAREFUL THOUGH!!*

Some words are not well-suited for truncation and will retrieve much more than you bargained for.

Look at "mat*". Our results could include mates, maternity, mating, matrix, and math.

Content From

This guide was adapted from Wellesley College's Search Tips Research Guide