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HRM320 Research Skills Guide: Search strategies

Search Techniques

  • Operators are special words that determine how your search terms are combined in the search.
  • They are sometimes called BOOLEAN operators.
  • You should always type in your search operators in capital letters.
  • The 2 main search operators are AND and OR.


Using the AND operator 
  • Retrieving too many results can be a problem when searching databases.
  • If you add extra search terms, and combine them with AND, you will get only results that contain both or all of the terms.
  • This is a way of making your search more specific (narrower), and getting fewer results.

Example: graduates AND recruitment

Using the OR operator 
  • Sometimes you might not get enough results.
  • If you add extra search terms, and combine them with OR, you will get results that contain one or other (or both) of your search terms.
  • This is a way of making your search less specific (broader), and getting more results.

Example: Human Resource Management OR Personnel Management

Using the NOT operator 
  • Sometimes you might wish to get results that do NOT contain a certain term.
  • If you combine precede a term with NOT, you will get results that do not contain that term.
  • This is a way of making your search more specific (narrower), and getting fewer results.
  • NOTE: consider that it might be better to search for what you do want, rather than what you do not want.

Example: manager NOT executive

  • You can use different operators in the same search. If you do, you must use EITHER different search lines, OR round brackets. This is important to ensure that the correct operators work on the correct terms.
  • This enables you to construct complex searches.


(talent OR skilled) AND (human resources OR personnel management) AND employee

human resources management OR HRM
[AND] recruitment
[AND] strategy

  • Truncation is used to search for terms with different word-endings.
  • This is another way of making your search broader, and getting more results.
  • In Primo Search, and in most databases, the truncation symbol is the asterisk ( * ).

recruit* will search for the words recruit, recruited, recruiter, recruitment, recruiting etc.
leader* will search for the words leader, leaders, leadership etc.

  • Wildcards can be used to search for the variant spelling of a word
  • Use a question mark (?) to substitute one letter within a word:


analy?e = analyse, analyze

wom?n = woman, women

  • What's the difference between keyword-searching and phrase-searching?
    • Keyword-searching = when you enter multiple words, your results will contain both or all words, but not necessarily together as a phrase.
    • Phrase-searching  = when you enter multiple words, your results will contain only that phrase.
  • Phrase searching is more specific and gets fewer results; keyword searching is broader and widens the scope of your search.
  • Most search tools, including Primo and Google (Scholar also), default to keyword-searching.

Example: If you type in talent management, you will get results equivalent to searching talent AND management. If you wish to search for the phrase <talent management >, you need to type in "talent management".

  • Some databases, e.g. EBSCOhost databases, default to phrase-searching.

Example: If you type in succession planning, you will get the phrase <succession planning>. If you wish to search for the keywords business and leadership, you need to type in business AND leadership.

Database records consist of fields that contain specific pieces of bibliographic information.

Common fields include:

  • Author(s)
  • Article title
  • Journal title
  • Date/year of publication
  • Subject headings
  • Abstract (summary).

Most databases will default to searching in all the main fields (see Database Platforms below), but changing this to search only in a specific field, or fields, can give you more precise results.

For topic searching, it's a good idea to search in the Subject field, but searching in the Title field can work quite well too. If you are searching for an author, you can search only in the Author field; if you are searching for a publication, you can search only in the Publication (also known as the Source) field.

To find the various fields in which you can search, look for drop-down boxes or menus. Here's the EBSCOhost Advanced Search screen.

The EBSCOHost advanced search screen allows you to select which field to search and which Boolean operators you'd like to use

You can combine search terms, search operators, and field searching to build quite complex searches, and get precise results:

The EBSCOHost advanced search screen also allows you to change the scope of your search easily

For information on searching using a thesaurus, see Using a thesaurus.

So far, we have looked at how search operators, truncation, keyword- and phrase-searching, and field searching can narrow or broaden your search.

Search limiters are another important way to narrow a search, and most databases offer a range of limiters that you can use as part of your search, or that you can apply after you have your results. In the latter case, they are usually called refiners or filters, because they refine/filter your results.

Common limiters include:

  • Full text
  • Date
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Language.

Other limiters will be available according to the subject content of the database, but might include:

  • Publication type
  • Document type
  • Humans
  • Evidence-based practice.

To find limiters to add to your search, look for tick-boxes and drop-down menus on the main search page. To find refiners to refine your results, look for lists to the left or right of your results list:

Limiters are available in most database searches as dropdown menus or check boxes

Where to use these search techniques

You can use these strategies in the basic and advanced search boxes in Primo Search and other Library databases. 

  Boolean Truncation Wildcards Phrases Proximity Groups
Google  Yes* NO Yes* YES Yes* YES
Google Scholar Yes* NO Yes* YES Yes* YES
Journal Databases YES YES YES YES YES YES
Yes* = yes it does this but it works differently. The search techniques accepted by each journal database can vary; if in doubt, check a database's help section.


Proximity Searching

A proximity search forces a database to find results where one search term appears within a certain number of words of another search term. The proximity operator varies according to the database. 

Examples from an Ebscohost database:  

recruit* talent N6 Australia  (N=near)This will find results where the keywords recruit* talent is within 6 words of Australia in any order

recruit* talent W6 Australia (W=within) This will find results where the keywords recruit* talent is within 6 words of Australia in the order in which you entered the search terms

Saving searches and creating alerts

Most databases provide the option to save your searches and set up alerts to help you keep up to date with the latest research. To do this you will need to create an account within a database which is separate from your Charles Sturt University login.

  • A search alert will be sent to you after you have saved a database search that you run periodically.
  • A table of contents (ToC) alert will allow you to receive the table of contents lists for selected recent journal issues.

To find out how to set this up within different databases see the Library's Keep up to date with the literature.

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