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How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 2a. Search Strategies

How to do research

Search Strings

Are you finding too much or not enough information? Try using boolean operators and truncation symbols, or use alternative, narrower, or broader keywords to vary your results.

ball of stringTo retrieve the most relevant search results, you will need to construct a search string

A search string is a combination of keywords, truncation symbols, and boolean operators you enter into the search box of a library database or search engine.

Example: educat* AND student* gives results that include "education, educator, educating" and "student, students".

Use the information on this page to help you construct effective search strings.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are connector words, such as AND, OR, and NOT, that are used to combine or exclude words in a search string for more focused results.

Operator Examples Results

business AND ethics

cooking AND Spain

 Results contain    
 ALL of the search terms.

hotels OR motels

www OR world wide web

theater OR theatre

 Results contain ANY of the      search terms, but not necessarily  all of them.

java NOT coffee

Clinton NOT Bill

 Excludes results containing
 the second search term.


Truncation or wildcard symbols allow you to look for variations of words. They often broaden your       search results.

For example, searching on sport* would bring up variations such as sport, sports, sporting, sporty, etc. 

Note: The truncation symbol varies by database. Consult the database’s “help” or “search tips” pages for details.

What You Should Know About Databases

  • Databases are different from Google.
  • Databases are pickier about spelling.
  • Databases don't automatically truncate.
  • Use a database's Advanced Search option to enter search strings with Boolean operators and truncations.
  • Avoid natural language; use keywords, subject headings or prompts.

Find more tips on the Using Databases guide.

This video will help you learn more about using databases: Searching Databases

Search Strategy Builder

Here's an example of a search.  Let's say you're doing research on the effects of poverty in high school education.  First, think of keywords that relate to your topic.


Next, go to Advanced Search and use "OR" to string together these synonymous terms (box 1): education OR schooling OR learning

Use "AND" to connect the first concept with another concept (box 2).

If you need material on both sides of the topic, add "controversy OR debate" (box 3).

Google Search Strategies

For more advanced searching tips, visit their Inside Search site.

Search Strategies Examples
Queries are not case sensitive.

Barack Obama and barack obama produce the same results.

Results will typically include each word or punctuation mark included in the query. Some stop words or exceptions apply.


Keep queries descriptive, but use as few terms as possible. Avoid natural language.

Use colorado statehood instead of when did colorado first become a state.

Google automatically truncates search terms. To prevent this, use a + sign in front of each term.

A query on child retrives results with "children" and "childcare".

Use double quotations marks (" ") to search terms as an exact phrase.

A query on "Barack Hussein Obama II" will retrieve only those sites that refer to Obama by his full name. Sites that refer to him as simply 'Barack Obama' may be overlooked.

Use the site: feature to limit your results to a specific website or class of websites.

The query cloning will only retrieve articles about cloning from the online version of the Wall Street Journal.
A query on cloning will only retrieve results within the government domain.

To allow for either of several words to appear in your results, use the OR operator. The operator must be in all caps.

A query on hotel OR lodging OR inn will retrieve results with any or all of these terms.