Keyword searching

General Keyword Searching Strategies

Database searching is NOT like Google!  Most do not support natural language searching.  You have to be precise in the words that you select.

Simple concepts

You can always search simple concepts with single keywords, such as underdevelopment.

Combining concepts

If you want to combine concepts, join them together using the operators AND and OR.

  • Use AND when the concepts are not related such as myth AND ritual. This narrows the search as both of those words must be in the information that is being returned.
  • Use OR when the concepts are similar, and it does not matter which word is found in the information that is being returned.  For instance, aboriginal OR indigenous. This broadens the search.


Use truncation when you want to allow for several spellings or variations on a word. For instance, Canad* can stand for Canada, Canadian, Canadians...

Key phrases

Key phrases are groups of words that always appear together.  Enclose key phrases in double quotation marks.  For example, "linguistic anthropology".

There is a difference between results where the words occur together in a record and where the words appear separately in an unspecified location throughout the record: it is much more likely that your results will be about your topic if they appear together as a phrase.  See for yourself!  Try visual anthropology in the catalogue, both with and without the quotation marks.

Putting it all together

You can combine all of these strategies to make more complex searches.  Remember that since databases evaluate searches from left to right, it is a good idea to use brackets to distinguish which terms represent which concepts.

For instance:

  • indigenous OR aboriginal
    will return information that includes either of these words
  • indigenous OR aboriginal OR "first nations"
    will return information that includes any one of these terms: indigenous, aboriginal, or the phrase "first nations"
  • (indigenous OR aboriginal OR "first nations") AND "residential schools"
    will return information that includes both concepts: "residential schools" as well as one of the terms that represents indigeneity
  • (indigenous OR aboriginal OR "first nations") AND "residential schools" AND Canad*
Content last updated: December 12, 2018