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Search Strategies & Citation Managers: Undergraduate Research Fellows: Search Strategies

Resources Specific to Your Major

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Choosing Effective Keywords

How To Choose Effective Keywords

1. When searching in library databases its not effective to enter entire research topic or question like you would in Google. Instead, you want to break down your topic or question into keywords. Ask yourself what are the main points or ideas of your topic?

2. Let's say you were researching methods for encouraging student engagement in high school students in rural communities, your keywords would be: rural communities, student engagement and high school. 


3. It is also useful to brainstorm alternate keywords for your topic. These can be synonyms, sub topics you are interested in, related terms, etc.

Alternate keywords for high school are secondary education or upper classmen; alternate keywords for student engagement are community involvement and internships

There are also words that aren't useful as keywords. Such as "effect" or "benefit". Instead, try to brainstorm specific effects or benefits to use as keywords. If you find an article you like look at their "Abstract," and "Subjects" to find new keywords.


What Are Boolean Operators?

Boolean Logic

Boolean operators are terms you can use to narrow or broaden your search in a database, library catalog or Google Scholar. The three basic operators are: AND, OR, and NOT

Why Use Them?

  • To focus a search when you are using multiple terms
  • To include synonyms for your search terms in order to find all variations 
  • To exclude terms not relevant to your search

Using AND (Narrowing)

How To Use AND

Use the operator "AND" in a search to:

  • Narrow your results
  • Tell the database that ALL the terms must be present in the search results
  • TIP: Put phrases such as United States or college students in "" to tell the database you want those terms together in your search


Search String: Anxiety AND "college students" AND alcohol

The search above tells the database that you want each article in your results to mention ALL the search terms. This narrows your results because all the terms must be present instead of any articles about anxiety, or college students, or alcohol.

Search String: Racism AND elections AND "United States"

The venn diagram below demonstrates that AND is the intersection of all your search terms - thus it narrows your search.

AND is the overlap of all your search terms

Using OR (Broadening)

How to Use OR

Use the operator OR to:

  • Broaden your search by telling the database that ANY of the terms can be present in your results
  • To include synonyms or related concepts for your search terms


Search String: College students OR university students OR undergraduates OR graduate students

The example above will broaden your search because it will pull up articles with ANY of those terms present.

Search String: Feminism OR Gender inequality OR women's rights

OR tells the database to pull up ANY of the search terms

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