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Ornithology Research Skills Guide: 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:

Search techniques

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. 


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:     
mammal* mammal, mammals, mammalian
ecolog* ecology, ecological
river* river, rivers, riverine

Getting better results


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.

 screenshot depicting an EBSCOhost database record, including subject headings as hyperlinks

Charles Sturt University acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands on which its campuses are located, paying respect to Elders, both past and present, and extend that respect to all First Nations Peoples.

Charles Sturt University is an Australian University, TEQSA Provider Identification: PRV12018. CRICOS Provider: 00005F.