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Research Tips: Creating a Search Strategy

Last Updated: Aug 9, 2018 12:19 PM


To locate resources for your research you must either use a catalog or an online database. This section of the Research Tips guide shows the basics of using the specific language that enables you to search a catalog or online database.  This is shown through examples and an explanation of the basic concept of searching by keyword, subject heading, author, and title.

Searching By Keyword

What are Keywords?

Keyword Searching is the most common form of online searching and should be used when you need to know what materials the library or database contains on a specific topic. You should search by keyword if you are unsure about the author or title of an item. Keywords are significant words used to describe information in a catalog, database or search engine. The keywords you choose for searching have a large impact on how many relevant records are retrieved.

Keyword searches are especially useful when:

  • you have incomplete title or author information
  • your topic combines two or more concepts
  • you do not know the exact subject headings for your topic
  • you want to link terms from different parts of a record, such as an author's name and a word from a book title

TIP : Use a thesaurus to help you find synonyms for your keywords

Developing Keywords

Since keywords are a very important piece of researching, it is equally as important to create a list of these words or phrases that will help your search. Normally, your keywords will be concepts or ideas that are related to your main topic. Please view the video below for more information on how to create keywords.

(Thanks goes to the University of Houston Libraries)


Boolean Operators

Boolean operators help to narrow or broaden your search. The most useful Boolean operators to connect your searches are AND, OR, NOT.


Boolean Search (And, Or, and Not)


AND finds records containing both terms. This narrows the search. For example:

  • body AND image
  • female AND appearance

OR finds records containing either one or both terms. This broadens the search. It can also be used to account for variant spellings. For example:

  • image OR identity
  • female OR girl

NOT finds records containing the first term, but not the second term. This narrows the search. For example:

  • female NOT teen
  • males NOT adolescent

You can use more than one logical connector in the same search statement.

  • body image AND female NOT teen

(Thanks goes to the Pfau Library at the California State San Bernadino Campus)


When to Use Quotation Marks ""

Use quotation marks when you want to search a specific phrase. This will make your search more direct, as the database or catalog will search for your keywords in the specified order. It is a great strategy when your keyword is made up of two or more words.

Our example below is "body image".


Boolean Search Phrase

If you search the keywords body image without the quotation marks, several resources with other words that may be unrelated to your search will also be found.