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Search Tips & Tricks

How to maximize your search results in library databases and Google!

Search Strategies

Use these tips to search better and find what you need more efficiently in academic databases and other tools.

While different databases might have slight differences in their use of these terms, the goal is always the same: the more thorough your search string, the more relevant your search results will be, which saves you the time of looking through articles you know you don't want.


Terms that connect keywords to make a search more efficient


Results that include both concept A and concept B

strawberry AND banana



Results of concept A except those that include concept B

strawberry NOT banana

Note: Some databases (like Scopus) prefer the operator to be written as AND NOT


The results of all of concept A and all of concept B

strawberry OR banana


Other helpful things to use when searching

Word stems

Variations of the base word

? (middle of the word)

wom?n = women, woman

* (end of the base word)

[engine*] = engine, engineer, engineering, engineered (etc.)


Brings back the term or title within the quotations

Also known as "bound phrase".

"strawberry smoothie"


To expand your search string and include more terms

(strawberry OR banana) AND smoothie

Keywords + Search Strategies = Search Strings

Use the terms and methods described above to improve your search results.

All you need is an initial search string to get you started, and as you go you'll be able to refine your search with new or additional terms to get the right material.


Research Topic

Let's say you're looking for information on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the military and the ethical implications thereof.



First, start by identifying the terms and concepts from your topic:
  • unmanned aerial vehicle(s)
  • military
  • ethics
You also have a number of synonyms or alternative forms of the words:
  • drone(s)
  • defense
  • ethical

+ Search Strategies

Now you can incorporate the search strategies listed above:

("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone*)

Refine by adding the topic of military, opening that to the use of military or defense:

(("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone) AND (militar* OR defense))

Include the ethical issues of UAVs in defense:

((("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone) AND (militar* OR defense)) AND ethic*)

Remember: as in math, the placement of parentheses can change the outcome.


= Search String

Now you have a solid search string that will get you a list of results that are on a narrow enough subject you can look through the titles and see if you're on the right track.

This worksheet will help you figure out your own initial search string: