New Student's Guide to the Library: Search Strategy

Incoming freshmen and new students: start here to use library resources

Library Research Tools Can Differ Significantly from Google!

Library catalogs and databases provide access to books, journal articles, and more, but finding relevant information effectively 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

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

Sample research question with keywords bolded:
What kinds of dropout prevention programs have proven most effective with Hispanic students?

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.


Advanced searching 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.

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Note: Searching with longer phrases or natural language, as you would in Google, can work well in OneSearch.

Subpages

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

(1:43) Learn how logical operators AND and OR work to help you get good results in library research databases.

(1:55) Learn how to retrieve varying forms of a word and improve search results.

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