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Choosing Search Terms
When you're choosing words to search for, remember that there are many different ways to describe the same idea. For example:
dog: canine, puppy, Dachsund, mutt...
You can't find what you don't search for. If you search for the terms dog and health, you won't find sources that only use the term canine to talk about dogs. Remember to search for variations of your term.
Use AND in a search to:
- narrow your results
- tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
- example: cloning AND humans AND ethics
The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search. It is a small set using AND, the combination of all three search words.
Be aware: In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied.
- For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between your search terms.
- Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
- For example, this search: college students test anxiety is translated to: college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records.
- You can search using phrases to make your results more specific.
- For example: "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be.
Use OR in a search to:
- connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
- broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
- example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction
All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a big set because any of those words are valid using the OR operator.
Phrase searching tips
Most databases allow you to specify that adjacent words be searched as phrases.
- Using parentheses or quotes around search words is a common way to do phrase searching, but not all databases or search engines use them.
- Example: "genetic engineering"
- Hint: It is often very easy to do phrase searching from the Advanced or Guided search in a database.
- You can click a button specifying that you want your words searched as a phrase, as in the example below:
- Root words that have multiple endings. Example: sun = suns, sunshine, sunny, sunlight
- Words that are spelled differently, but mean the same thing. Example: color, colour
- Truncation/wildcard symbols vary by database. Check the help screens to find out which symbols are used.
About truncation and wildcards
Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.
- To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
- The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
- Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #
Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.
- This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.
wom!n = woman, women
colo?r = color, colour
If you have questions about applying this technique to your search, Ask Us!