Search Strategies

Students often tell us they have difficulty finding scholarly articles in library databases.  Using these search tips will help you find the articles you need for your research paper and projects.  You can also use our Guides on the Side for step-by-step instruction for using our databases.  These tips can also be used for better Internet searching too!

What is a keyword? 

A word used as a reference point for finding other words or information.

“Keyword Also Key Word.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Eds. The Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 3 June 2015.


Why do I want to use them?

Keywords are the main words of your topic.  They help you find research in the world of information.

Keyword Tips:

  • Use academic or professional language when you are conducting research in order to find the most scholarly materials on your topic.
  • Avoid unnecessary words like effect, affect, study, research or journal when searching library databases.
  • Putting quotation marks around your words, like “climate change”, allows them to be searched as exact phrases.
  • Using an asterisk helps you search for words with similar endings. Teen* would find (teen, teens, teenage, teenager). Also works with search engines.
  • Using a question mark or hashtag symbol helps you search two similarly spelled words at the same time, like woman and women (wom#n, wom?n). Databases tend to use the question mark; search engines the symbol.

Boolean Operators:

  • Use AND to combine your main keywords together. This is done automatically in search engines.
    • For a paper on the effects of climate change on Lake Erie, your search would be simply be “Lake Erie” AND “climate change”.
  • Use OR in databases and web searching to search for two words that can be used interchangeably.
    • You would use neonate OR infant OR newborn for researching about babies.
  • Use NOT to eliminate a word or topic from your search. Many search engines use a minus sign (-) to eliminate words.
    • For a paper on the importance of vaccines, you would use autism when searching websites in order to eliminate unscientific research.