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Get Started with Library Research

Use these search operators to shape your search

  • Quotation marks to insist that search results contain a phrase
    • "helen of troy"
  • AND to insist that search results contain two or more terms
    • helen AND troy AND "greek mythology"
  • OR to allow the system to choose any of several terms
    • greek OR roman OR classical
  • NOT to exclude a term
    • helen NOT troy
  • Parentheses for complex searches with multiple operators
    • "helen of troy" AND (mythology OR legend)


Too Few Search Results? Try...

  • Breaking your topic down into its most important concepts. 
    • Instead of searching all the words in your research question (e.g., How does sleep deprivation affect college students' learning?), try using only the most important concepts (e.g., "sleep deprivation" and "college students" and learning).
  • Using broader search terms.
    • Instead of searching very specifically phrased search terms (e.g., "sleep deprivation"), try searching more general or foundational terms (e.g., sleep).
  • Adding synonyms for your search terms.
    • Instead of searching only one word for your concept (e.g., learning), try searching multiple words that express the concept you are researching (e.g., learning or achievement or education).
  • Using fewer search terms. 
    • Instead of searching every concept in your research question (e.g., "sleep deprivation" and "college students" and learning), try removing some of the less important or more transferrable concepts (e.g., "sleep deprivation" and learning).
  • Adding variations of search terms.
    • Instead of searching only one variation of a word (e.g., learning), try using truncation symbols to find variations of the words (e.g., learn* will search for learn, learning, learned, etc.). (Note: most databases and catalogs recognize * as the truncation symbol, although a few use another character, such as !.)
  • Using a different search tool.
    • Instead of searching only one database or catalog, try a variety of search tools.  Subject Guides point you toward recommended resources in each subject area.

Too Many Search Results? Try...

  • Narrowing your topic.
    • Instead of researching a very broad topic (e.g., role of the military in the Middle East), try narrowing to a more specific angle (e.g., role of the military in Syrian politics). 
  • Leaving out synonyms.
    • Instead of searching multiple words for the concept you are researching (e.g., politics or "political parties" or government), try searching the most specific, accurate term (e.g., "political parties").
  • Using subject headings or descriptors.
    • Instead of doing keyword searching, try searching with subject headings, also known as descriptors.  Many databases and catalogs provide special terminology to more accurately and consistently describe topics.  Using that terminology in the right way can find better results (e.g., a database may use the subject "armed forces" instead of military.)
  • Filtering your search results.
    • Instead of sifting through all the results your search turned up, try filtering your results by publication type (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles), by date (e.g., only items published in the last 10 years), or by language (e.g., only items in English) to narrow to the most relevant information.