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ELS503 Research Skills Guide: Topic 2: Search techniques

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  • Search techniques

Search techniques

Search techniques


It's worth spending time learning how to search effectively, so that you can be confident you are retrieving the most relevant articles for your assignment. Below we discuss some search strategies that will help you conduct better searches:



Boolean operators


Boolean operators allow you to fine tune your search by using the operators "AND", "OR" and "NOT" to combine keywords and expand or narrow your search. The diagram below shows you how Boolean operators refine a search. The blue sections represent what is included in a search, while the white sections show what is not included.

Boolean operators





Truncation allows you to search for all variants of a word. The truncation symbol is usually an asterisk (*), inserted after the last letter in the stem word.

The table below shows you how to use a truncation symbol and how it affects what a database searches:

 Truncated word:       What the database will search for:     
 teach*  teach, teaching, teacher, teachers
 disab*  disabled, disability, disabilities






Wildcard symbols enable you to substitute a symbol for one letter of a word. They are particularly useful for words with multiple spellings.

The wildcard symbol is typically a question mark (?), inserted in place of the variable letter.

 Wildcard word:        What the database will search for:      
 Organi?ation  Organisation, Organization
 Wom?n  Woman, Women



Subject headings and author keywords


Most articles include a list of subject headings or author keywords that convey the overarching themes covered in the article. You can use the subject headings or author keywords from a relevant article to identify additional keywords and common terms.

Below is an example of a database records from EBSCOhost Education Research Complete.

In many databases these are also links that you can click and follow.

 EBSCO screen shot


Use the search strategies you have learnt to identify truncations and combine the keywords from your research topic. 


Tip: You will find that you need to change and adapt your search as you go. What works well in one database may not work as well in another. Keep a record of your searches; it can help you figure out what is and is not working.




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