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Learning Lab: Search Strategies II

1. Identify keywords for a search topic

A. Describe ways to find keywords to use when searching for information on a topic. 

  • Write out the question or idea topic that will be researched, then pick out the "content" words; content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives  Examples: 
    • What are college students' attitudes about voting?  
    • What is treatment for ankle injuries
    • How do website ads affect choices to buy?   
    • Is group therapy for depression effective?
  • Think of known synonyms for the content words
  • In preliminary searches, look at the "subjects" or "identifier/keyword" lists in the records about articles
  • Notice the terms used in books, articles, etc. about the topic

For tips and worksheets to help with listing search terms, refer to the Identify Keywords section of A Guide to the Research Process found on the Phillips Library Help page.

2. Determine how to combine keywords in a search

In a search of all EBSCO databases, perform the searches below.  The write down the number of records in the search results.

  • adolescents
  • depression
  • adolescents AND depression (see hint below)
  • adolescents OR depression (see hint below)

HINT: Go to "Advanced Search".  Enter the search terms into boxes on separate lines. Pick the combining word (and / or / not) from the drop down list between the two lines.


A. Which of the searches had the highest number of results?  Why?

B. Which of the searches had the lowest number of results?  Why?

C. Enter the search adolescents NOT depression (use the hint given above).  Was the number of records more, less, or the same as the search results for:  adolescents?  Why?

A.  The largest number of results was for:  adolescents OR depression, because if a record has either of the words in it, it was retrieved.  When terms are combined with OR, then a record can have one or both of the terms in it. 

B. The search with the least results was:  adolescents AND depression, because only records with BOTH terms would be retrieved.

C.  The search: adolescents NOT depression yielded less results than the search for: adolescents.  Because all records from the search for adolescents that also had the word depression were excluded.

For more explanation about combining search terms with the operators AND, OR, NOT, refer to the Create Search Statements section of A Guide to the Research Process found on the Phillips Library Help page.

3. Apply advanced strategies to improve search results

In the EBSCO and/or ProQuest database(s), practice strategies listed below. 

A. Truncation - Compare the results of the searches below. Which has more results, and why?

  • immigration 
  • immigra* - An asterisk is used to create a truncated search term. 

B. Phrase searching - Compare the results of the searches below.  Which of has more results, and why?

  • secondary education - enter these words without the quotations
  • "secondary education" - enter these words with the quotations

C. Title field searching - Compare the results of the searches listed below.  Which has more results, and why?

  • global warming (no field selected; default search is all fields)
  • global warming in the title of publications

D.  Lists of "Subjects" or "Identifier/Keyword" - In article records, use the "subjects" (EBSCO) or the "idendifier/keyord" (ProQuest) lists for search term ideas. 

A. Truncation of a word will yield more results because it opens the search to various word forms, not just one form of the word.  Any record that has at least one of the words represented by the truncated term will be retrieved.  

For example, immigra* will search for records containing all these word forms: immigrate, immigrated, immigrating, immigrant, immigration.   Two screenshots below illustrate the difference in results with vs without truncation.

Example:  Search Results without Truncation


Example: Search Results with Truncation

B. Phrase searching - Words searched as a phrase will retrieve less records than if the words are searched together but not as a phrase. The reason is because words entered in one search box wil be searched as if they are combined with AND.  Therefore, secondary education is the same as, secondary AND education, and all records with both words but not necessarily as a phrase will be in the results.  The 2 examples are below. 

Example 1: secondary education


Example 2:  "secondary education"

C. Title field searching -  Searching only the title field of the records for publications will yield fewer results than when all fields (anywhere) in the records is searched.  Searching only the title field may help to shorten the list of results to records that are more likely to focus on the topic of interest, because keywords in a title suggests the publication emphasizes the topic represented by the keyword search terms. 

Example 1:  global warming (no field selected; default search is all fields)


Example 2: global warming in the title of publications

D. "Subjects" and "Identifier/Keyword" lists in records may provide ideas for search terms - Examples from EBSCO and ProQuest records are below.

  • Article record in EBSCO database - Subjects can be seen in the brief and detailed views of the record for an article.

EBSCO Brief Record

EBSCO Detailed Record

  • Article Record in ProQuest Database - the "identifier/keyword" list is seen in the "Details" part of the record for an article




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