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Research Skills: Step-By-Step: Search Strategies

This guide will help you to develop your research skills and better understand the research process.

Planning Your Search

Source: University of South Australia. (2017, October 19). Study help: Plan your search [Video]. YouTube.

Search Techniques

Your search strategy is what you type in the search box of a library database or search engine. For best results, use more than one.

To retrieve the most relevant search results, you will need to use more than one search technique.

  • Keywords including synonyms
  • Phrases
  • Truncation and Wildcards
  • Connectors also known as Boolean operators
It is worth spending the time developing your search techniques as searches will be more accurate and reduce time wasted on ineffective searching.

Combining your Search Terms (Boolean Operators)

Boolean operators are connector words, such as AND, OR, and NOT, that are used to combine or exclude words in a search retreiving more focused results.

AND narrows your search as the search results will contain records with both keywords.


OR broadens your search as the search results will contain at least one of the keywords.  Useful when using synonyms.


NOT narrows your search as it excludes words.


Watch the video clip below to see how it works!

  • Source: Western University. (2013, January 14). Putting together your search terms [video]. Youtube

Additional Search Tips

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


Wildcards are useful when looking for words that have variants in their spelling, especially British versus American spellings e.g. colo?r will retrieve color and colour. Use the wildcard to pick up all spelling forms.


Truncating words (replacing part of a word with an * symbol) will retrieve all alternative words e.g. nurs* will retrieve nurse, nurses, nursing, nursery

Note: The truncation and wildcard symbol can vary by database. Consult the database’s “help” or “search tips” pages for details. Most commonly used are * or ?

Limiters or filters can be used to further refine your results.  Consider filtering by date, country, document type such as PDF, JPG etc.