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How to Find Articles: Search Tips

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words used to connect two or more terms within a search. They are commonly "AND," "OR" and "NOT." Here are some tips for using each different connecting word. 

AND will make your search smaller. If you are retrieving too many records on your topic, try adding another search term with the operator AND.

For example: "krispy kreme" AND marketing

OR will make your search bigger. If you are retrieving too few records on your topic, try adding another search term with the operator OR.

For example: (adolescents OR teenagers)

NOT will exclude a word from your search results. If you are retrieving too many records on an unrelated topic, try eliminating a word with the operator NOT.

For example: dolphins NOT football

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More Search Strategies

Phrase Searching

To search for two or more words in the exact order in which they are entered you should enclose the phrase in quotation marks " ".

For example: "obsessive compulsive disorder"


Truncation allows you to search the root form of a word with all its different endings by adding a symbol to the end of a word. Truncation symbols vary by database (check the help screens or ask a Librarian), but are usually one of the below:

(asterisk)  (exclamation point)  (question mark)

For example: advertis* will search for advertise, advertisement, advertising, advertised

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Keywords vs Subjects

Keywords are words and phrases you have thought of that describe a topic you would like to research. Keyword searches are typically how you begin your research using library search tools like databases and catalogs. Usually a basic keyword search will retrieve many search results, as any sources that mention your keyword(s) at least once anywhere in a source's text or its record will be retrieved.

Combine keywords with the Boolean operator "AND" in between each keyword in order to research a more specific, multifaceted topic. For example, "college students AND study habits," "French literature AND existentialism," or "exercise AND knee injuries."

Subjects are very specific terms and phrases assigned to a source by a database or other authoritative group to describe an information source as a whole. When searching by subject, it is very important to use the exact spelling and/or word order of a subject term used by your search tool. Searching by subject is very precise; usually, not many search results will be retrieved, but the sources retrieved should be very relevant to your topic.

Advanced search options in library search tools usually provide subject searching. The challenge is to first find the exact subject terms/phrases to use. You may have to perform several basic keyword searches until you find a good source and take note of the subject terms in the item's record. In this search result page using EBSCOhost, notice the "Subjects" listed for each source as you make your way down the page. It would be beneficial to take note of any subject terms that best describe your search topic and then starting a new search using those subjects.