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ENGL 109/110 - College Composition I - 2018/2019: How To Search

Research 101: Searching Is Strategic (3:14)

Keywords Are Key!

When you search in academic databases, keywords will give you the best results.

  • Use just a few keywords to express the main concepts in your research question.
  • Combine keywords with AND, OR, or NOT. There's a video and more information on this page.


Tip: Put phrases such as climate change in quotes--"climate change"-- to search for the exact words in the text of articles. This also works in Google.

What Next?

When you use keywords and combine them with Boolean operators, you are well on your way to becoming a better searcher.

You will certainly get better results than if you type in a long phrase such as "all the research that shows evidence to prove there's no life on the moon." So many unnecessary words! A better search might look like this: "life on the moon" and research.

If you want to try even more search techniques, you can explore using truncation with keywords or using parentheses to group your search terms.

Using Truncation with Keywords

Truncate words to search more effectively in online databases.


Truncate: To shorten or cut off at the end. The process of searching for a keyword in a database:

  • in plural or singular form
  • as a root word with multiple endings

theat* (use for theater and theatre)

wom*n (use for woman or women)

child* (use for child or children)

By adding an asterisk to the root word you can search for that word with all possible endings.

Organizing Search Terms with Parentheses

Parentheses are useful for controlling your search.

Example 1: (early education or pre-school) and (adult education or secondary school).

What kind of results will this search get? It should retrieve only articles about education for little children that also mention adult education or secondary school.

Example 2: early education or pre-school and adult education or secondary school.

Without using parentheses, you will not control the results so well in this example. The search will work from left to right as shown below:

FIRST early education or pre-school and adult education or secondary school.

early education or pre-school THEN and adult education or secondary school.

early education or pre-school and adult education FINALLY or secondary school.

In example 2, the term "or secondary schools" is last. The search interprets this to mean that in addition to the results about education for little children that also mention adult education, you'd also like anything at all about secondary schools, whether or not it mentions education for little children.

Confusing? Don't sweat.This is advanced searching and your MCC librarians are happy to help you with it.

Combining Keywords with Boolean Operators (4:50)

AND, OR and NOT aka Boolean Operators

Did you know? When you combine keywords using the words AND, OR and NOT, you are using Boolean Operators. You use these terms to connect keywords and thus, to search more effectively and efficiently. They can also help you refine your search if you get too many or too few results.

  • Use AND to connect two unlike words and narrow your search -- useful if you get too many results

  • Use OR to connect to like words and broaden your search -- useful if you get too few results

  • Use NOT to exclude a word from your search results.


Tip: Keep it simple! The more words you use with AND searches, the fewer results you will get!

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