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GRSC7880 (Walker): Community-Engaged Research Methods: Search Strategy

Choosing Search Terms

Scholars use many different terms to describe similar ideas. Unfortunately, the databases are only going to look for what you tell them to look for. They won't find what you don't search for. If you search for the terms "action research" AND apparel, you won't find sources that only use the term "community engaged research."  Remember to search for variations of your term. For example:

"participatory action research" OR "community engaged research" OR "community based research"

Combining Search Terms with AND, OR, & NOT

In the example below, think of each circle as a word or concept you're using in a search.

Venn diagram of Bollean operators AND OR NOT
By Watchduck (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The first diagram visualizes what happens when you combine terms with AND. The second illustrates the use of OR. The last illustrates the use of NOT.


Use AND to group dissimilar concepts. For example:

apparel AND "action research"


Use OR to combine similar concepts. This helps you pull in a more comprehensive set of records. For example:

apparel OR fashion


Use NOT to kick out any results containing a certain word. If we don't want articles mentioning luxury fashion, we could search:

fashion NOT luxury

Once we have a set on testing, we narrow with a different concept using AND. You can combine AND, OR, and NOT to build more complex searches. Group any OR terms in parentheses.

 "action research" AND (apparel OR fashion) NOT luxury


Truncation allows you to search for word stems. The asterisk (*) is most commonly used for this when searching databases. For example, a search for commun* could bring back results with the terms community, communal, commune, etc.

Proximity Searching

You can use proximity searching to find words in a certain range of each other. You can tell the database to look for "community" within 3 words of "research." Unfortunately, the operators to do this vary by database. Most of our major databases are through EBSCO or ProQuest.

For EBSCO databases:

  • Near (N#): N3 finds the words if they are within three words of one another. Order is unimportant. For example, engage* N5 community would find "we engaged the local community" as well as "our community-engaged study."
  • Within (W#): W4 finds the words if they are within four words of one another, in the order in which you entered them. For example: community W4 based would find an article containing "community and school based" but not "based in communities and schools."

For ProQuest databases:

  • Near (N/#): N3 finds the words if they are within three words of one another. Order is unimportant. For example, engage* N/5 community would find "we engaged the local community" as well as "our community-engaged study."
  • Pre (PRE/#): PRE/2 would find words in your specified order. For example: community PRE/2 (base* OR engage*) would find "community based study" or "community engaged study," but not  "we engaged the local community." 

Your Librarian

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Amber Prentiss
Miller Learning Center 373