Clear Lake High School AP Capstone: Search Strategy

Neumann Library resources for Clear Lake High School's Advanced Placement Capstone Seminar

Library Research Tools Can Differ Significantly from Google!

Finding relevant results in research databases and library catalogs usually requires knowing how to search by their rules. 

  • Identify keywords and short phrases that will retrieve relevant results
  • Use "connectors" (AND, OR, NOT) to specify relationships between keywords
  • Use wildcards when appropriate to maximize results and save time

The above techniques also can be used in OneSearch if natural language (long phrase) searches yield poor results there.

Search Strategy Tips & Examples

Keywords are the most important terms, usually substantive nouns, that are likely to appear in publications about your topic. Avoid using more generic, implied words (e.g., effects, impact, influence, reasons, etc.).

Sample research questions with keywords bolded:

What kind of dropout prevention programs have proven most effective with Hispanic students?
What effects has climate change had on agriculture?
What impact does gender have on a person's salary expectations?

Phrase searching uses quotation marks to find multi-word terms in exact order:

  • "New Mexico"
  • "intimate partner violence"
  • "high school dropout"

A phrase search narrows results and works best when phrases are well-known terms, short (four or fewer words), and represent a single concept:

  • "impact of the war on terror"   
  • "war on terror"

Many databases assume word adjacency, but when using quotes is available, results can be more precise.

AND, OR, and NOT connectors (also known as logical or Boolean operators) determine how keywords are found. Use them to narrow or broaden your results.


You're most likely to regularly need AND and OR:

Foreign workers and exploitation or abuse or harassment

If there's only one text entry box available, insure that your keywords are combined as you intended by using parentheses to nest words that are synonyms or alternative terms for the same concept:

  • foreign workers AND (exploitation OR abuse OR harassment)

Advanced tip: If AND doesn't narrow results sufficiently, consider using proximity operators.

Wildcards can save time and broaden results by finding multiple endings of a distinctive word stem. The asterisk (*) is the most commonly used wildcard of this type.

In many databases a wildcard is no longer needed to find simple plurals (e.g., teacher usually finds either teacher or teachers). The wildcard is very helpful, however, for finding more complex variations. For example, educat* finds:

  • educate
  • educates
  • educating
  • education
  • educator

See more examples of wildcards.

Use limiters to narrow and focus your results. Typical limiters include:

  • text fields -- restrict keywords to a document title, for example, or to subject terms (subject terms can vary from database to database, but using them usually improves the relevance of results)
  • scholarly (peer-reviewed) content
  • publication date or range
  • publication type (periodical, newspaper, etc.)
  • document type (article, editorial, book review, etc.)
  • language

Caution: Using a full-text limiter in resources other than OneSearch will exclude full-text articles available through Find It @ UHCL.

Note: The more limiters you apply, the smaller your results will be. If they're too small, expand or remove less critical limiters.

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Essential Tools for Online Searching: AND, OR, and Wildcards

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