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IDST 150 Honors Rebekah Taveau

Developing A Search Strategy

Now that you've picked a database, you will need to develop a search strategy for finding relevant articles. While some databases may look different, they typically have similar search features. Depending on the database you choose, you should be able to apply several of the strategies listed below.

Search Tips

Boolean operators are used to define the relationship between your search terms. Using them can help you to narrow or broaden your search results.












Narrow search. Will retrieve records containing all of the words in your search. The dark blue area where the circles intersect represents your search results. Black Death AND Society would only retrieve records containing both of those terms.








Broaden your search and retrieve records containing any of the words in your search. A search for Black Death OR Plague would retrieve records containing either of those terms.





Narrow search and retrieve records that do not contain the term following it. Black Death NOT Plague would exclude any records with the term plague..

It's important to know that databases use subject headings to organize their articles. When you know the right subject headings for your topic, you can search more efficiently. Starting out on a new topic, you won't know the subject terminology. A simple way to find them is to start with a keyword search. When you find an article title that meets your needs, look for the subject headings assigned to that article. In most cases, those subject headings are hyperlinked and will take you to a list of articles with the same subject heading.

Scholarly articles often have extensive bibliographies, also called reference lists or works cited pages. Bibliographies include references to articles, books, and other relevant literature that were published before the article. Some databases provide links to the cited references so that you can look at those articles as well, which might provide more articles for you to use in your paper.

Cited References can help you find articles that are older than the one you are reading.

An Examplle:

Look at the example to the left. If you found a relevant article from 2003, you could look at the articles in the bibliography to see where your article got the information used to support their main points. These older articles can also be useful to your research, especially if you need to write a literature review.

You can use a similar method to find newer articles, by looking at the articles who have cited your 2003 article in their bibliographies. To find out more about this method, see the tab for Times Cited references.



  • Use quote marks (“ ”) around search phrases, e.g., “fast food”
  • Use OR between words for the same concept, e.g., children OR teens OR "young people" OR adolescents
  • Limit searches to sites from a specific web domain (e.g., )
  • Limit searches to a specific website, e.g., will limit a search to the NY Times website
  • Limit by time period by clicking on 'Search Tools' at the top of the results page and the 'Any Time' pull-down menu

Search Technique Tip #1: Word Choice Matters

The real art of searching is in finding just the right search keywords and phrases (like in the story of Goldilocks, not to narrow and not too broad but just right). Computers can be frustratingly literal. For example, searching for the word "schools" will bring back articles about colleges - but also all other grade levels, too. (And maybe other kinds of education, like traffic school, or even schools of fish!)

We recommend starting with specific terms, and only going more broad if you can't find what you need.

Search Technique Tip #2: Use Words or Phrases, Not Sentences

While there has been a lot of work done recently in computer science on natural language queries and artificial intelligence, the technology isn't quite there yet when it comes to searching for information. Use keywords or phrases, not sentences or questions. For example,

Search:     education 


How can we change education?

Search Technique Tip #3: Specify Where Your Words Appear

Word placement matters when it comes to searching. That is, if your search word or phrase is in the  article title, abstract, keyword or subject, chances are better that article is really about that topic, and your word or phrase isn't just a note at the bottom of the last page. 

If you are getting too many results from a search, try specifying that your word or phrase has to appear as a keyword, or even precise, as subject or in the abstract.

Search Technique Tip #4: Include Different Words for the Same Concept

Often, though, there are more than one word or phrase to describe what you need. In those situations, use the Boolean logical operator OR to connect them. In searching, "or" is not part of everyday language; instead it tells the computer that you want either or any of those terms.


online learning OR online teaching

creativity OR innovation

Search Technique Tip #5: Use Advance Search Mode for Complex Searches

Combining search terms with AND & OR can really focus down your search. (See the video in the box on the right for how to use AND & OR correctly in searches.)

When searching in Cañada Library's databases, though, use Advanced Search Mode. This gives you multiple search boxes. Be careful to put only similar terms (linked with OR) in the same box. Use the pre-set AND to link with your additional concepts, putting those term(s) in another search box. Here's an example:

advanced search Wiley

gets the following results:

results advanced search Wiley

Level Up Your Search Skills

This three-minute video describes more advanced search techniques that can focus your results even more, and save you time. The quotation marks technique works for multi-word phrases in Google, and you can use Boolean logic terms in Google Scholar, too!

See this LibGuide for Additional Tips on Narrowing your Search!