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Waidner-Spahr Library

Research Process: Search Strategies

Use this guide to as a basic guide to research. Information is included on how to use keywords and phrases, evaluate a source. This guide can also help you identify primary and secondary sources and expand or narrow your searches.

Expanding or Narrowing Your Search

Words such as AND, OR, and NOT are used to combine search terms to broaden or narrow a search in an electronic database.

  • AND will narrow your search; for example, the search "cats AND dogs" returns items that contain both the terms cats and dogs (both terms must appear in the record).
  • OR will broaden your search; for example, the search "cats OR dogs" will return items that contain either the term cat or the term dog - but not necessarily both.
  • NOT will exclude specific items, thereby narrowing your search. For example, the search "cats NOT dogs"" will exclude any books, articles, films, or other materials that mention dogs, but will include any other information concerning cats.

Keeping Track of Your Searches

As you begin your research project take a moment and think about how to keep careful records of where you have searched (what catalog or database) and with what keywords. The system needs to be flexible and dynamic since your project may change focus and you need to adapt. What you want to avoid is repeating work (since you may not remember doing a search one month later) or leaving a hole in your research (e.g., by searching a database or site early on with one idea and then never returning after you have changed directions). You also need good recordkeeping from the start in order to keep track of your citations.

You may want to use a tool to manage your citations and save your sources as you research, both RefWorks and Zotero can help you do this.  But you will need to set these up before you start your research, though they both will save you time in the end and help you organize a larger research project.