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Search Strategies

Advanced search skills can help refine your search results.  Use these strategies when looking for information from the library databases or Google.

Phrase Searching

Put quotation marks " " around phrases to search the term as a phrase. Otherwise, the database or Google may separate the words.

"social media"     "minimum wage"   "Port Huron"

Boolean Operators

Refine your search results using Boolean operators. The three most common Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT, but there are others available. The operators AND and NOT will narrow your search and OR will usually increase your search results. 

AND - Use AND to find resources with all your search terms.


“climate change” AND "national security"

“business plans” AND restaurants

"college students" AND "study habits"


OR - Use OR to find articles with either search term in them.


"Blue Water Area" OR "Thumb Coast"

colleges OR universities

restaurants OR “food industry”

ecommerce OR "online shopping"


NOT - Use NOT to eliminate terms you do not want in your search results. (Use - in Google) 


graffiti NOT "American Graffiti"


Combining Terms - Put parentheses () around the ORs if other Boolean operators are used.     


“college students” AND sleep AND ("cell phone" OR texting)

marketing AND (restaurants OR "food industry") 



Conducting Research

A basic search is constructed using keywords, which together form your query. The keywords you choose to include in your query will have a direct result on the search results.

Keys to conducting a good search include:

  • Do some background research on your research topic to gather potential keywords and phrases. Reference materials will be helpful in learning the terminology used by professionals writing in the field.
  • Conduct multiple types of searches. A keyword search will generally provide the most results, but not all results will be necessarily on topic. Try using a subject search, or try limiting your search by date or format. Use the Library of Congress system to find the cataloged items on a particular subject.
  • Try searching a broad topic and then narrow down the search field by using supplementary links, and subject suggestions within the catalog & and the search within feature of the databases.
  • Search multiple locations and look for a variety of sources. 
  • Combine words and phrases using the search strategies in this guide. Keep track of which terms you have searched, and of which combinations draw better results.
  • Copy or save citations as you search for easier resource retrieval later.


If you need assistance, or feel a little lost – be sure to ask a SC4 Librarian for help!



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Jane Lewandoski
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