Search Techniques

Searching by keyword is the best approach when researching a new topic. It will look for a match for your terms in the title, author, subject headings, year, and the abstract fields for each record. It also allows you to combine more than one topic in a search. There are a few helpful techniques you can use in keyword searching to get more accurate results.

Jigsaw puzzle


Connectors (Boolean operators) can be used in keyword searches to combine two or more terms in one search. They can be used to either broaden or narrow the search. The most common connectors are: AND and OR.

The connector AND refines a search. A database returns fewer hits during an AND search because all search terms must appear in the record for it to trigger. Use AND to combine different concepts into one search. For example:

Diagram for an AND search

On the other hand, the connector OR broadens a search. You retrieve more records because OR includes each of the concepts separately as well as both concepts when found together. Use an OR search to link together related concepts or synonyms. For example:

Diagram for an OR search

Finally, another narrow search connector is NOT. NOT excludes certain terms from your search, to narrow the focus of the search results (and avoid giving extraneous records).



Truncation acts like a wildcard. Added to the end of a root word, it will find that root word plus any ending that follows it. The symbol to truncate a word depends upon the library catalog, database, or search engine you are using.

  • Returns search results containing the same root word:  psychologypsychologicalpsychologist.
  • The asterisk (*) is used as the truncation symbol in the CWRU Library Catalog.
  • Returns search results containing the words:  environmentenvironmentsenvironmental.
  • $ is used as the truncation symbol in some OhioLINK databases.


Russian nesting dolls


Nesting is a powerful search technique that uses parentheses to group multiple search terms together. It prioritizes the order in which words are searched by the database by specifying that the content in parentheses be searched first.

Usually the items in parentheses are linked by the Boolean Operator OR and are synonyms as illustrated in this example:

alcohol AND (adolescents OR teenagers)

This search will retrieve records with the words alcohol and adolescents, as well as records on alcohol and teenagers. Use nesting to link two or more concepts that are synonyms in order to obtain more comprehensive search results.

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