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Finding Information for Speech Pathology: General Search Techniques

A Library Guide to help with developing research projects in speech pathology (SPH516, SPH526, & SPH423)

Search Operators

Search Operators (called Boolean Operators) allow you to fine-tune your search by using the operators AND, OR, and NOT to combine search terms to broaden or narrow your search. You should always type these operators in capital letters.

  • AND will combine the terms so that both or all terms must be in the results. This is a narrowing technique which makes your search more specific.
  • OR will combine the terms to that one or other (or both or all) of the terms will be in the results. This is a broadening technique which gets more results.
  • NOT will exclude results that contain a particular term. This is a narrowing technique. It's not used very often because it's probably better to search for what you do want rather than for what you don't want.

Venn Diagrams showing the 3 types of search operators - AND, OR, and NOT

Using Different Search Operators in the Same Search

If you wish to use different combining operators in the same search - that is, AND and OR together - there are two ways that you can do this:

  • Use an Advanced Search screen with multiple lines of search and use a different line for each part of the search.


  Search line 1 child*
AND Search line 2 speech OR communicat*
  • Use round brackets to enclose the different parts of the search. You must do this if you are using a single search box. The brackets ensure that the search tool interprets and executes the search exactly as you require.

Example:   child* AND (speech OR communicat*)                

Finding Different Word Endings

Truncation is used to search for the same term with different word-endings. This is another way of making your search broader, with more results. The truncation symbol is usually the asterisk (*). You need to put the asterisk where the spelling changes.


If you search for: You will get:
therap* therapy, therapist, therapists, therapeutic, etc
ethic* ethic, ethics, ethical, ethicist etc

Phrase vs Keyword Searching

  • 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.
  • Most search tools default to keyword-searching. This includes Primo Search, EBSCOhost databases, and ProQuest databases (also Google and Google Scholar). Some databases, e.g. Ovid databases, default to phrase searching.
If you enter lung cancer ... ... you will get lung AND cancer.
You must enter "lung cancer" ... ... to get the specific phrase lung cancer.
PHRASE SEARCHING [less common]
If you enter lung cancer ... ... you will get the specific phrase lung cancer.
You must enter lung AND cancer ...  ... to get the keywords lung AND cancer.

If in doubt, use double quotation marks if you want to search for a phrase.

Field Searching

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, but changing this to search only in a specific field, or fields, can give you better 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 items by an author, you can search only in the Author field; if you are searching for items from 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 beside the search box(es):

In EBSCOhost databases, the drop-down menu to the right of the search boxes allow you to specify the field in which your terms are searched for.

Proximity Searching

A proximity search searches for terms only where they appear within a certain number of words of each other.

The proximity operator varies according to the database. It is placed between the keywords/phrases in the same way as other combining operators. You can usually specify the number of words between the two terms. 

In any EBSCOhost databases:

If you enter, in the search box: You will get:
dementia N4 communication Results where the word dementia occurs within 4 words of the word communication
patient* N3 assess* Results where patient OR patients occurs within 3 words of assess, assesses, assessing, assessment etc

For more information, including the proximity operators for the main database platforms, see Using proximity operators.


Get better search results

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