Chapter 7: Library Services & Resources

Database Search Strategies

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Database Search Tips

This section covers several database search tips including Boolean Operators, wildcards, and shortcuts that will make your research more efficient.

Quotation Marks: Placing quotes around a phrase will join those words together instead of searching them separately. This can be extremely useful if you are dealing with a phrase that consists of common words such as social AND media. In this case, you can eliminate many unrelated results by searching “social media” instead.

Boolean Operators: Strategically incorporating And, Or, and Not into your searches will help you get better results by narrowing or expanding your search and by eliminating unnecessary terms from your results.


  • And: Adding this to your search will create a narrow set of results. For example, combining social media AND digital literacy will only retrieve results that contain those two terms. Your results will be more narrow in focus.
  • Or: Conversely, searching social media OR digital literacy will expand your search by retrieving results with either one of those terms.
  • Not: This will narrow your results by excluding a term that is irrelevant to you. For example, searching social media NOT digital literacy will eliminate a term that occurs frequently in James Baldwin searchers. If that’s not the focus of your research, excluding it from your results can help streamline the search process.

The Boolean operators will be located in the drop down menu within a database’s advanced search options. For example, this is what they look like in MLA:


Truncation Symbols: Including asterisks, question marks, and exclamation points can help streamline your searches by ensuring that you are capturing word variations and alternate spellings.


  • Asterisks: Placing an * at the point where the spelling of a word could change will search for every variation of that word. For example, when dealing with James Baldwin, race and racism will be a recurring theme. You can save time by searching for rac* which will retrieve results for race, racism, racialized, racial, and raced.
  • Exclamation Points: Used for searching variations of the same word with alternative spellings. For example, wom!n = women or woman.
  • Question Marks: Useful for searching words and names with alternate spellings, such as British and American variants or words that are translated in slightly different ways. For example, colo?r = color and colour.

Now that you’re adept at finding high-quality resources, the next step will be to think about how to organize and manage all that research.


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Strategies for Conducting Literary Research Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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