Becoming a Professional I: Building

What databases like

The library's databases prefer to be given explicit instructions as to how to run your search (as opposed to typing in full sentences like you can do with Google and Google Scholar).  This tab provides you with a few simple, yet powerful tools to construct good search statements.  These can also be used in search engines.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are very powerful tools that follow a specific logic.  They dictate how you want your keywords to be searched, you just have to state how you want them to be used to interpret your terms. The two most commonly used in databases are:

  • AND: this operator allows you to combine different concepts together.  When you type in AND between terms, all of the terms you enter must be present in order for the record to be retrieved.  For example:
    • feline AND hyperthyroid
  • OR: this operator allows you to find synonyms that relate to a particular concept.  Whey you type in OR between terms, as long as at least one of terms you enter is in record, the result will come  back.  For example:
    • feline OR cat

While many databases don't require for them to be capitalized, it is good practice to do so; plus you can quickly glance at your search statement and see where they are.  The above are the two most common, but there are other operators you can use. Check the "help" section of the database to see what other operators you can use that are supported by that particular database.

Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you should be able to cut and paste the results into the standard database search boxes.

Write out your research question or topic thesis as a sentence.

  Concept 1 and Concept 2 and Concept 3
Extract the major concepts from your sentence above and enter them here.    

List alternatives for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words or short phrases.

Find additional terms in abstracts and summaries of the articles, books, and other sources you find during initial searches.

Search terms Search terms Search terms













Search Strategy Builder created by University of Arizona Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Other tips for searching

In addition to Boolean operators, here are a few other tools you can use as you build your search statements:


Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to search for variations of a word so you didn't have to type OR all the time?  Good news, there is! The most common symbol used to add characters after a root word is the asterisks (*).  To use this, simply put the * at the end of your word, and the database will look for the root word, along with any letters that follow.  Be careful though, if your root word is too short, you'll get a lot of things that don't relate. For example:

vaccin* will find:

vet* will find:
  • vaccine
  • vaccines
  • vaccinate
  • vaccinates
  • vaccindated
  • vaccination
  • vaccinations
  • vet
  • vets
  • veterinary
  • veterinarian(s)
  • veteran(s)
  • vetted
  • veto/vetoed/vetoes

There are other truncation symbols you can use within words as well. Check the "help" section of the database to see what other symbols are supported by that particular database and how they can be used.

Phrase Searching:

What if you need to search for a phrase?  You dictate that your terms must be found right next to each other and in the order you write them in simply by putting two or more words in quotation marks.  For example:

"thyroid disorders"
"large animal veterinarian"

Nested Searches:

What if you want to use more than one Boolean operator and more than one of the above tools?  It is very easy to combine Boolean operators, but as this follows a logical system, you must include parentheses to dictate order of operations.  For example, while the following two searches use the exact same terms and the same Boolean operators in the exact same order, they'll return very different numbers of results based on how the search was interpreted (bold and colors demonstrate how it will be read by the system):

this search: hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid" AND feline* OR cat AND treatment

would be interpreted as: hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid" AND feline* OR cat AND treatment

So records retrieved would include:

  • hyperthyroid (and all variations: hyperthyroidism, etc) / will not be tied to the concepts of feline/cat or treatment
  • records that have the phrase and term "overactive thyroid" AND  feline (and all variations: felines, etc) / will not look for synonym of cat or include the concept of treatment
  • records that have the term cat AND treatment / will not look for synonym of feline (and all variations) or include the concept of hyperthyroid/overactive thyroid

This was not effective, as the synonyms for the specific concepts were not interpreted the way I meant.  The use of () allows you to dictate to the database how you want the search interpreted

this search: (hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid") AND (feline* OR cat) AND treatment

would be interpreted as: (hyperthyroid* OR "overactive thyroid") AND (feline* OR cat) AND treatment

as this search will look for records that have at least one of the terms: hyperthyroid (and all various endings) OR the phrase "overactive thyroid", but it also has to include at least one of the terms: cat OR feline (and all various endings) and the word treatment has to be in the record in order for the items to appear in the results list.