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Library and Information Studies

Basic Search Techniques

Keywords are the words that you type into the search box to find resources about your topic. What are the most important words in your research question? Think of synonyms for those words.

Example: What are high school student perceptions of their school libraries?

Practice: Brainstorm possible keywords for this topic:

What are the pros and cons of having a makerspace in a middle school library?


After you have decided on your keywords, you'll need to tell the database how they should be connected.


"middle school" AND "school library"

Will find resources that have both middle school and school library as keywords.


"middle school" OR "junior high"

Will find resources about middle school OR junior high.


"public school" NOT "private school"

Will find resources about students at public schools not private schools.

After you decide on your keywords and how they connect to each other, you should come up with a few search strategies that you'll try in the databases. Here are some example searches. (PRO TIP: Keep it simple, then add more techniques if you need to!)

"middle school" and library and makerspace

"school librarian" and mentor and retention

Advanced Search Tips

Truncation can be used with root words that have multiple endings. It can help to increase your search results.

Truncation uses symbols (or wildcards) to replace letters in words. Different databases use different symbols. The most common are:

* (asterisk)   ? (question mark)   #(pound sign)

EBSCO databases use * (asterisk)

Example: communicat* would retrieve records that include the words: communication, communicates, communicate, communicator, etc.

Nesting is another way to refine your search, by combining Boolean operators. Place parenthesis around the terms that are grouped with OR or NOT.

"student success" AND (employment OR job*)

technology AND (assessment OR evaluation)

  • You don't need to use all of the strategies with every search. Start simple, and add more techniques when needed.
  • Avoid empty words like relationship, impact, effect, results
  • For very specific research topics, combine strategies. For example:

makerspace AND ("middle school" OR "junior high") and "3D Print*"


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