Search Strategies

Changes to Library services during the COVID-19 service disruption.

Once you have chosen a database to search for journal articles on your topic, here are some strategies for creating an effective search:

Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form

What did the ancient Greeks use for transportation?

Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords

ancient Greeks, transportation

Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept

ancient Greeks - people, citizens

Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.

Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement

  • Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
  • Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
  •  citizens AND transportation AND ancient Greece
  • (ancient Greeks OR people OR citizens) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.

Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings

A wildcard is usually represented by a *.  This is also called truncation.

(ancient Greek* OR person* OR citizen*) AND transport*

Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching

Some databases search each word separately.  To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks. 

"ancient Greeks"

Step 7: Evaluate your results

If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:

To broaden your search (find more):

Find synonym for each keyword.
Search for a broader concept ('wagon' instead of 'cart').
Use wildcards/truncation.

To narrow your search (few fewer):

Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
Use more specific words ('chariot' instead of 'wheels').

Content last reviewed: April 15, 2020