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Higher Education Program Guide: Search Strategies

This guide provides resources to help you succeed in research for the Higher Education program.

Advanced Search Strategies

Brainstorming keywords and creating sophisticated search statements is a great way to get relevant search results. But there are some other techniques you can use to create even better search statements. 

Truncation: Truncation can simplify your search and even help to catch keywords you may not have thought of. Truncation shortens a word to its root to catch variants of the root word.  Let's say that your search statement included the word child. Searching for child* would bring back results including child, children, child's, children's, childlike, and childless. While not all of these would be relevant to your search, the majority of them are. Truncation can be used only at the end of a word. Some terms are more appropriate choices for truncation than others. For example, searching for vet* would bring back vet, vet's, veteran, veteran's, veterans, veterinarian, veterinarians, veterinarian's, and veterinarians'. If you were interested only in research on veterans, veteran* would be a better truncation than vet*. 

Wildcard: Sometimes you want variations of a word, but the variations happen within a word and not at the end. In this case, you'll want to use a wildcard, usually a question mark, to indicate that variations of a single letter are acceptable. For instance, searching for wom?n will bring back results with both woman and women. The wildcard is useful when the singular and plural forms of a word are changed within the word, or when different English variants may have slightly different spellings. 

Quotation marks: When your search includes a phrase, pay attention to your results list to see if the database is finding results with the phrase only, or if it is separating the parts of the phrase and returning results that don't seem relevant to your topic. For instance, you may be interested in sensory processing disorder, but in your results, you notice than in addition to articles on sensory processing disorder, you've got results on other disorders or sensory conditions because the database is searching for your terms individually as well as together. To avoid this problem, you can put quotation marks around the phrase you're searching for in order to find only those terms together in that order: "sensory processing disorder." 

Searching Multiple Databases

When you're searching for information related to teaching and learning, a simple trick can enable you to search multiple EBSCOhost databases at once, thereby maximizing your time spent searching. 

The simplest way to do this is to start at the database Education Research Complete. Just above the search box, click on "Choose Databases" (highlighted below). 

Image of how to choose databases

From the list, choose the type of databases you want to search. For the scholarship of teaching and learning, choose Education. Click "OK." 

Now, you'll be able to search all of these databases at the same time, with any duplicates automatically filtered out of your search results. 

Citation Chaining with Google Scholar

Once you've found one article that interests you, an easy way to find similar articles is to check out who has cited the original article. Google Scholar makes it really easy to find these other articles. 

Start at the Google Scholar homepage ( and enter the name of the article in quotation marks (see below). 

From the results list, you should see the article you're looking for. To see which other articles have cited it since its publication, click on "Cited by ---" (highlighted below). 

Now you have a new results list of articles related to the original article. 

Searching by Journal

In addition to searching an entire database, you can also limit your search to a particular journal. To do this in any of the EBSCOhost databases listed under the "Resources" tab, simply enter your search terms in as many search boxes as necessary, and then add the name of the journal to the next search box. Putting quotation marks around the journal title will ensure that the database looks for those exact terms. Then, in the drop-down box, choose "SO Source" (see image below). 

Now you'll be searching only in that particular journal. 

Limiting to higher education

When you're searching in education-related databases, you'll quickly find that these databases cover education at all levels, not just higher education. If you're interested only in higher education research, you'll want to make sure you add search terms that help limit your search to higher education. Adding (higher education OR college OR university OR postsecondary) to a search box will help filter out any sources that are not related to college and university education.  

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