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Research Toolbox

The tools you need, when you need them.

Boolean Operators


When you want to combine search terms, you will need to use what are called Boolean operators or connectors. Many databases have an Advanced Search mode that guides you in using these operators.

Using the operator AND will retrieve articles that mention both terms somewhere in the article. (example: searching Cowboys AND Indians will result in articles which contain both terms)

Using the operator OR between the two terms will retrieve articles that mention either term. (example: searching Indians OR Indigenous will result in articles which contain either of these synonymous terms)

Using the operator NOT allows you to exclude terms. (example: searching Cowboys NOT Football will result in articles about western Cowboys and not the NFL type)


Truncation and Wildcards

Use truncation (an asterisk) to shorten a root word in your search.

Example: searching Child* will result in articles with any word beginning with the root "child", i.e. child, children, childhood, etc.

Use wildcards (either a question mark or exclamation point) to allow for alternate spellings.

Example: searching Globali?ation will result in articles whether the term is spelled globalization or globalisation.

Subject Headings

Use the Subject Search option

For some topics, subject searching works better than keyword searching which is usually the default.

You may retrieve fewer results but they will be more precise.

Use the results of a keyword search to discover subject headings (descriptors) used in the database. Usually, they will appear at the bottom of the article or somewhere in the citation. 

Example: searching "child poverty" reveals the following subject headings: Poverty; Child Development; Fetal Development; Gestational Age

Use Your Imagination


Think of all the possible ways to express your topic. Brainstorm until you've exhausted all possibilities. An article about global warming may not have the phrase "global warming" anywhere in it. Instead, you may find that the title contains the words "surface temperature records" and a cataloger has assigned it the subject heading "climate change."

Be a Detective

Look for clues in all that you discover

As you begin to find information, keep an eye out for the "big names" in your research area--key people and organizations. Notice the names of people who are often quoted in the news; scholars who are doing research on your topic and the universities with which they are affiliated; activists and leaders working on a political or social issue; spokespersons and influential figures. Then, search for books and articles written by them. If a person has spoken at a conference, find out if the conference proceedings are available. Use the bibliographies and footnotes from the books and articles you find to identity other articles to explore. Find out if there is a local or national organization related to your topic. See what information is available on its web site. You might contact the organization by phone or email to find out what information they provide to the public, and whether they have staff that can assist you in getting more information. Municipal, state, and federal government web sites post a lot of valuable informaiton, including statistics and reports.

Browse the stacks in your subject area

Explore the shelves

Searching the library catalog and getting exact call numbers is the most efficient way to find books on your topic or books by a particular author, but browsing the shelves is a great way to get familiar with the collection. Once you find a book on your topic, browse the shelves around that book and you may find others that will work as well.

Our library uses the Dewey Decimal System of library organization. Broad subject areas are listed below:

000-099: General works

100-199: Philosophy and psychology

200-299: Religion

300-399: Social Sciences

400-499: Language

500-599: Natural Sciences

600-699: Applied Sciences

700-799: The Arts

800-899: Literature and Rhetoric

900-999: History and Geography

Decide whether to search Broad or Narrow terms

When searching for books, use broader terms

Subjects and keywords for books usually describe what the whole book is about--the main topics, not every topic covered. In the article databases, the subjects will describe what the article or chapter of a book is about. Within a book, use the table of contents and the index to pinpoint information on your topic.

Don't limit Yourself

Search more than one database

Search a database that covers many subjects as well as a subject-specialized database. The same search phrase entered in two difference databases may retrieve different results. Try different phrases; try the same search across multiple databases. Don't be content with the results of one search.

Use filters

Be aware of which databases search full text only as a default and which ones require you to filter for full text. Understand that if you do not filter for full text, you may access the citation and the abstract of an article.

Depending on the database you may also be able to filter by publication date, publication type, subject heading, etc.

Ask a librarian

Don't spin your wheels and waste a lot of time if you get stuck or encounter something confusing. A librarian can be one of your greatest resources. A librarian can save you time and help you find better information, more efficiently. You are welcome to drop by and see a librarian during the school day, email one of us, or set up an appointment. We are happy to work with you to help you be successful in your research.