--> Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Library homepage

ENG 380 - Hartman: Search Tips

Keyword searching

KEYWORDS or KEYWORD PHRASES are words or phrases that describe your topic that use to search for information

Start by writing a sentence describing your topic,

  1. Pick out the important words or phrases -- these are your keywords
  2. Make a list of synonyms for each of the words or phrases
  3. Search and see which are the best for your topic.
  4. Put phrases in quotation marks:  for example "temperature change"

If your first set of keywords does not give you the articles you need:

  1. Make a list of synonyms or phrases that have similar meanings to your first set of keywords
  2. Make searches with the synonyms
  3. If you find even one article that is right on target, look at the Subjects assigned to that article and use those as search terms.
  4. You can also look at the references that the author cites. Many of them will be related.


Using AND / OR / NOT in Your Search

And / Or / Not

These are Boolean operators. 

Think of each keyword as having a "set" of results that are connected with it.

These sets can be combined to produce a different "set" of results. 

AND is used to reveal only the documents that have both  ​concepts.. Use AND to narrow your search.

For example.  Below you see the difference in the amount of results that occurs by using the various operators.

Search Term Hits
HIV 123,252 hits
Denialism 91 hits
HIV AND Denialism 36 hits


The words "HIV' and 'Denialism will both be present in each record.

OR is a connector that allows either word to be present in each record in the results. Use OR to expand your search.

Search Term Hits
Adolescents   86,877 hits
Teenagers 151,644 hits
Adolescents OR teenagers 182,833 hits


Either 'adolescents' or 'teenagers' (or both) will be present in each record.


NOT is a connector that requires the first word be present in each record in the results, but only if the record does not contain the second word.

Search Term Hits
HIV 123,252 hits
Adolescents OR Teenagers 182,833 hits
 NOT United States 2,598 hits   


So a search for HIV AND Adolescents OR Teenagers NOT in the United States will remove records that include United States

Choosing Keywords

Search Symbols

?    A question mark  is called a wild card.  In a search, it replaces one character within a word.

  • for example:  you can search Sahar?n if you are unsure whether it is spelled Saharen or Saharan (correct spelling).
  • a pound sign (#) is used as a wild card if you want to replace 2 or more letters within a word.

*     An asterisk is used for truncation. It is always placed at the end.  It searches for all words that start with the root phrase before the pound sign. The *  represents any number of letters at the end of the word.

  • For example, if you want to search variations of a term, or are unsure of spelling:  white-tai* deer 
    will retrieve both white-tail deer and white-tailed deer (correct form)
  • This also works well for plurals that have different endings, or for alternate spellings for terms that are spelled differently in other English-speaking countries