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Research Process: A Step-By-Step Guide: Search Tips

Search Tips

Searching databases can be a little different from searching Google. Using these search tips you can make your searching far more efficient, allowing you to broaden or narrow your search as necessary as well as filter out unnecessary results,

Truncation and Wildcards

One way to broaden your search is through use of truncation and wildcards.

The symbols used for this may vary depending on the database but are typically:   ? * ! + $

These symbols will save you from having to put every variant of a word into your search. 

Truncation is including the symbol at the end of a word. For example searching child* will provide you results contain childhood, children, childish etc.

You would use wildcards when there is variation in the spelling of a word or for variations of one character

  • colo*r would bring you color or colour
  • t*re will find tire, tore and tyre

Note: This will not work if used inside quotation marks.

Search Terms

Boolean operators are connector words that can be used to combine or exclude words from your search. Using these words focuses your search, helping to ensure you find the most relevant information, excluding what you don't need and including what you do. The three main Boolean operators that you would use are: AND, OR, and NOT


Using AND narrows your search by telling the database to retrieve all of the search terms. So if you searched for "cloning AND ethics" the database would provide you with only what is coloured green in the above Venn diagram.

OR broadens your search. It tells the database to retrieve results containing any of the search terms. So results may contain just cloning, cloning and ethics, or just ethics.

By using NOT you are telling the database exclude the second word in your search. So if you search "cloning AND ethics" the database will exclude any results containing the word ethics. It would provide you with what is coloured green in the above diagram. This can be very useful if you are retrieving results that are not relevant to your research and want to filter tham out.


These Boolean operators can be used all together and multiple times in one search for example: Cloning AND ethics AND sheep OR humans NOT reproduction.

Quotation Marks

For many databases, though not all of them, the AND is implied.

For example if you search for hospitality management, the database will search: hospitality AND management.

So the two words may appear individually throughout the search results rather than connected like you intended.

You can circumvent this through the use of quotation marks. Searching for "hospitality management" in quotes ensure that the two words will appear together in your results.

This can be used in conjunction with Boolean operators 

For example: "Hospitality management" AND "food poisoning"

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