Skip to Main Content

First Year Seminar: Library Services & Resources Module: Module 4: Searching Tools & Techniques

This guide will help new students become oriented with library resources and services, as well as becoming acquainted with some research basics.

Searching Techniques

Basic or advanced searching can be done in any of the databases we have access to or the library's catalog WorldCat.

First, try a simple keyword search such as Air Pollution. Keyword searches produce a large amount of results. This type of search is broad and less precise. Fortunately, most online catalogs and databases have features to help you refine your search terms. Refinement features may include author, year, format, content, audience, or sub-topics.

Creating a search strategy:

Next, try Boolean searching. This type of searching allows you to combine keywords using operators AND, OR, and NOT.

To narrow your results use AND with two or more concepts. Example: Environment AND Air Pollution - both terms will be searched.

To broaden your search use OR with synonymous or related words.Example:  Recycling OR Reusing - this search results in hits containing information about recycling or reusing (one or both will be searched)

Sometimes one of your search terms may produce a list of results that includes articles that are not relevant to your topic. Using the operator NOT eliminates words from your search and reduces the number of results. Example:  Reusing NOT Recycling. The word Recycling will be excluded from the search. 

Other Search Techniques:

You can broaden your search by using the Truncation technique. Depending on the database the symbol may be the (*), (?), (%) or ($). This type of search allows you to replace the end of a word with a symbol. Example: adolescen* retrieves adolescence, adolescent, adolescents

Another technique is using Wildcard symbols such as (*), (#), (!), (or (?). This technique substitutes a symbol for a letter in a word and searches for variant spellings. Each database is different and you'll need to check with the database search tips to identify which symbol to use. 

Example: wom*n retrieves woman and women

Database Searching

Most databases are structured so that records are comprised of the following fields and make searching and retrieving a little easier:

  • Keyword
  • Author
  • Title
  • Title phrase
  • Subject
  • Journal
  • Abstract
  • Publisher
  • and more...


Searching Tips

1. Limit your search results to Full Text. This will weed out results to articles that have only abstracts or citations. You will want results with the full text of articles so you can read and print out. This will save you a lot time when you get 21,245 results.

2. Look at hyperlinked subject terms often found in the record information of the article. You can view related articles or get new ideas to focus on.

3 If your search terms are not yielding many results, try using synonymous words or phrases.

For example:

  • Instead of schooling or instruction try education
  • Instead of pupils use students

Module 4: Searching Tools & Techniques - Constructing a Search Strategy Activity - NOT REQUIRED