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ENG1110 English Composition & Written Composition

An Introduction to the Research Process and Basic Information Literacy Skills

Introduction to Refining the Search

Juust Right ...

You will need techniques to refine your search once you get going. Most searchers find that they get too many results, too few results, or completely unrelated results. You are not alone! Knowing the following techniques may help you get results that are just right.

Image used under the Creative Commons License and originally posted by sammydavisdog

Techniques to Refine Your Search

Get less! Get more! Exclude what you don't want!

Have you ever searched for information using either a library database or an Internet search engine (like Google) and retrieved either too many, not enough, or irrelevant results? Learn how to make your searches more specific and relevant using the AND, OR, and NOT connectors between keywords or phrases. Using the AND, OR, and NOT connectors in your search is called Boolean searching. You might see the phrase "Boolean Search" used on a library database search screen, so it is important to know what this means.

  • Use AND to get fewer results
  • Use OR to get more results
  • Use NOT to exclude what you don't want

Watch this video:

Take this practice quiz:
If you struggle with the quiz, go back and view the Boolean Searching Video before taking the quiz again.

Phrase Searching

Phrase searching keeps your words together in a precise order (as a phrase) by using quotation marks. For instance, if you were to look for global warming in a library database, that database would interpret your search in one of two ways:

  • "global warming" - the keywords should be kept together as a phrase, as you probably intended
  • global AND warming - the keywords can be found anywhere in the article in any order, which you probably did not intend

By using quotation marks around your phrase, you are telling the database to keep the words together in that order.

Truncation & Wildcards

Some databases allow certain symbols to be used for searching different forms of a word (such as plurals) or different spellings.


A symbol added to the end of the root of a word that instructs the database to search for all forms of a word. The asterisk (*) is used in many databases for truncation.

Example: adolescen* retrieves adolescent, adolescents, or adolescence


A symbol used to represent any character. Wildcards can usually be used at the end of a word or within a word. The question mark (?) is used in many databases as a wildcard. You can use wildcard symbols to search variant spellings of a word.

Example: wom?n retrieves woman or women

Watch this video:
Video produced by librarians at the Gumberg Library, Duquesne University

Use Help Screens

Check the help screens of a particular database to determine the appropriate symbols to use Below are links to Search Tips for two of our most commonly used research databases: