RLCL 1004: Search Strategies

FYE information for Religion/Culture, Foreign Languages, and Philosophy majors

From Keyword to Database with Boolean Operators

AND, OR, and NOT
Now that you've come up with a list of keywords that might describe the information or ideas that you're hoping to find in the library databases, you need to think about how you will combine these terms in order for the databases to be able to understand what you want.  Databases use something called Boolean logic, which basically means that you need to use specific words to combine your keywords in order to get the best results.  AND, OR, and NOT are the words most commonly used to combine keywords--they are called Boolean operators.  Using Boolean operators can help you create a very efficient search.  

three circles, two overlapping, to show boolean


Truncation and Wildcards


A symbol, specific to the search interface, which allows the retrieval of all endings for the specified base word. An asterisk (*) is often used. For example,  child* would retrieve records with children, childish, and every other word that begins with the root word "child."


A symbol, specific to the search interface, which allows the retrieval of various spellings of a word. A questio mark is often used.  For example, wom?n would retrieve records with women or woman.  

Read more about these sorts of tricks

Example Boolean search statements using symbols

  • (Calcium AND milk) NOT goat
  • child* AND anxiety AND (exercise OR physical activity)

See our tutorial about developing search statements.

Right-sizing Your Topic

When picking a research subject, it's important to make sure you choose a topic that's the right size.  One way to a specific topic in a larger subject area is to ask "what about it interests me?" two or three times.  This generally creates a good topic for a 5-10 page paper.

For example, if you're interested in the internet, the pattern might go like this:

What about the internet interests me?    I'm interested in the evolution of the internet.
What about the evolution of the internet interests me? I'm interested in how internet evolution has changed communication.
What about communication interests me?   I'm interested in how social skills have changed.

The final search statement is," How has internet development affected people's communication and social skills?"  The highlighted terms in this process can be used as keywords.