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Research Strategy: Create a Search Expression

Not sure where to start on your big research paper? Start here! We'll walk you through it step by step.

Quick Tips

Remember, great searches

  • use nouns
  • focus on key concepts
  • do NOT include "an" "the" "on" "in"
  • are NOT your full research question, but the core words
  • do NOT assume an opinion

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators are AND, OR, and NOT.

AND will limit your search. The search results will bring back only results with BOTH keywords in them. Use this operator to connect multiple concepts.

OR will broaden your search. The search results will have either one term or the other or both. This is helpful when there are more than one way to say a keyword.

NOT will eliminate a term from your search. Use the operator NOT to eliminiate irrelevant topics from search results that keep appearing. These could be topics that often appear with your keywords, but are not related to your topic.


Grouping Keywords together using quotation marks can improve search results. Put words together that change meaning when separated by placing all grouped words inside quotation marks. For example: "video games" or "solar energy." For these searches having each word independent of the others would bring back a lot of search results that are not relevant to the topic. When we group them together however, the database knows to look for the words as a unit, and will make our search results more likely to be on topic.


Truncation is used when there may be multiple forms of the keyword that will all be beneficial to your search. Break the word down to its "trunk" or point in the word where it starts differentiating to create new words and add an astrisk. For example "addict*" will bring back "addict," "addictive," and "addiction."

Search Tips