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WRIT 107B (General): Search Tips

One Perfect Source?

Watch this brief video to see how complex search strategies may work for a research topic. 

Courtesy of the NCSU Libraries CC 3.0 BY-NC-SA

Searching in the Databases & UC Library Search

When searching in a database or one of the library's search tools you want to structure your search differently than you would in a regular web search (like Google or Bing). Instead of typing in your research question, try formatting it in a way similar to the example below.

Example:  You want to search for articles on the stresses experienced by first-generation college students.  Try using the following search:

(college OR university) AND "first-generation students" AND stress*

This search incorporates three techniques: keywords, punctuation marks, and boolean operators. See the boxes below for more details.

Key Words

Key words are a series of words or short phrases that describe your topic. 


In the search example above, articles could use either word -- college or university.  There are ways to include both in your search. 


When you include phrases in your search you are telling the database that you want those words in a specific order.


Where you want multiple words that start with the same series of letters, you can use truncation symbols to include all of these word in your search.

See the boxes below to learn how to put it all together.

Punctuation Marks

In the search above there are a few techniques employed:

  • Parentheses ( ) can be used to include synonyms in your search
    • (college OR university)
  • Quotation marks " " can be used when you want an exact phrase
    • "first-generation students"
  • An asterisk * can be used as a wildcard to truncate a word. The first part of the word will stay the same and the end will change
    • stress* = stress, stresses, stressful, stressed

Boolean Operators

In the search above we also use connector words known as Boolean Operators. Each of these has a specific function when you include it in your search.

  • AND is used when you want both keywords to appear in your results
    • blue AND green, cats AND dogs
    • AND narrows a search 
  • OR is used when for related terms when you want either or both 
    • blue OR green, cats OR dogs
    • OR broadens a search
  • NOT is used when you want to exclude a term from your search
    • blue NOT green, cats NOT dogs
    • NOT narrows a search
    • NOTE: It should be used sparingly because you may lose relevant results. For example, if you want to find papers on local coffee shops, but not Starbucks and you find an article that compares a local shop to Starbucks, since Starbucks is mentioned at all, NOT would exclude this relevant article. 
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