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COMM 3700: Empirical Research Methods: How to Search

Identifying Keywords

The keywords you use can have a profound impact on the results of your research. Using the “right” words will speed up the research process, while the “wrong” words can bring to it to a halt.

Before you can begin searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. Key terminology can be easily be found by scanning: 

  • Your research questions
  • Background information from reference sources
  • The text of any books and articles you've already found. (Do they describe the idea you're looking for  in a different, specialized way?)

If you are still struggling:

  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe them.
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend.

AND, OR, & NOT

Use AND, OR, and NOT to connect your keywords and tell the database exactly how you want it to search for your terms.  These terms help you combine or exclude words in your search for more relevant results.

Operator Examples Results
AND

cross-cultural AND communication

"social work" AND therapy

Results contain    
ALL of the search terms.
OR

psychotherapy OR counseling

"Affordable Care Act" OR Obamacare

Results contain ANY of the search terms, but not necessarily all of them.
NOT

java NOT coffee

Clinton NOT Bill

Excludes results containing
the second search term.

Truncation & Phrase Searching

Truncation or wildcard symbols allow you to look for variations of words. They often broaden your search results.

Example: searching on sport* would bring up variations such as sport, sports, sporting, sporty, etc. 

 

Note: The truncation symbol is usually an asterisk (*) but can vary by database. Consult the database’s “help” or “search tips” pages for details.

Use quotation marks for phrase searching, i.e. "University of Georgia" 

Note:  searching "social work" tells the database to look for these words in this exact order - this phrase, instead of finding social in one sentence and work in another.

Search Strategy Builder


This tool is designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. Cut and paste the search string results into the search box of a library database or search engine.

Concept 1 and Concept 2 and Concept 3
Name your concepts here
Search terms Search terms Search terms
List alternate terms for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words, or "short phrases" in quotes

or

or

or

or

or

or

or

or

or

or

or

or

Cut and paste the results above into the search box of a library database or search engine.
 
Developed by the University of Arizona Libraries and is used under a Creative Commons License.

Acknowledgements

Hat tip to Lori Micho of JWU Denver Libraries, for letting me borrow and modify content from her Research Process guide.

Your Librarian

Amber Prentiss's picture
Amber Prentiss
Contact:
Miller Learning Center 373
706-542-7674