Skip to main content

Science Posse

Selected Electronic Resources for the Sciences

Getting Started with Your Search

When searching in a library database or library catalog, it's helpful to identify key concepts or search terms. These tips can be used in our library catalog, Library OneSearch or our library databases listed in Find Databases.


  • Use AND to narrow your search results (e.g., subject omission AND Hebrew)
  • Use OR to broaden your search results. (e.g., code-mixing OR code-switching)
  • Use NOT to filter out results that contain terms you're not interested in.

Phrase Searching: Put quotation marks (" ") around search terms to search for them as a phrase. For example: "higher education".

Truncation (*): Use the asterisk symbol (*) to retrieve variant endings of the search term. For example, a search for morpholog* will retrieve morphology, morphologies, morphological, morphologist, etc.

Grouping Keywords: Use parentheses ( ) around your search terms to group them together. For example, the search (autism OR autistic) AND lexical will search for resources that mention the terms autism or autistic AND lexical.

Identifying Key Concepts & Brainstorming Keywords

Before you jump into searching, it can be helpful to spend a few minutes thinking about your research question and brainstorming for keywords that you can use in your searching.

Think about your topic as a research question and then identify the key concepts.

Example research question: How does use of social media affect the grades of undergraduate students?

With this example research question, the key concepts would be:

social media AND grades AND undergraduate students

Once you have identified your keywords, brainstorm for additional terms.

For each of the keywords you recorded in your previous answer, think of synonyms or alternative terms.

Try to think of terms that are broader in meaning, as well as terms that narrower in meaning. These broader terms may help you expand your search if you are not finding enough information, while narrower terms may help you focus your research.

For this example research topic, you might identify these keywords:

social media Facebook, Twitter
grades academic achievement, GPA, academic performance
undergraduate students college students

As you read information about your topic, note the suggested terms that come up in some of the databases. These terms might be good to use in future searches.