Skip to Main Content
UCF Libraries Home

NGR 6801 - Research Methods: 1. Strategies

Search Strategies

There are several strategies you can use to search for information using online resources. An overview of these strategies is discussed below. Be aware, however, that each database you use will probably apply these strategies differently.

Boolean Operators – Use the words AND, OR, NOT to connect your search terms logically. AND means you want both of your terms and you are narrowing your search (anxiety AND children). OR means you will take either term and it expands your search (personality OR behavior OR character). NOT excludes a subject or search term (violence NOT war).

Nesting – Use parentheses to group your search terms and Boolean operators in the order in which you would like them processed. Using Advanced search screens in a database or on the Internet is another way to group your terms so that you retrieve more relevant documents on your desired subject. An example of nesting: (doping or performance enhancing drugs) and sports

Truncation Wildcards –Using truncation and wildcard symbols (? * !) is a shortcut strategy for retrieving records that contain a variation of a word. Using a truncation symbol enables you to include different word endings and spellings without having to list them all as search terms. For example, educat* will retrieve education or educator or educated or educating or educational. Wildcards typically are used to find alternate spellings of a word, such as wom*n which will retrieve either women or woman. Be careful when using truncation and wildcard symbols because different databases use different symbols. Using a ? in some databases may result in retrieving one or more characters but other databases may have different uses for a question mark. To determine which symbol is used in the database you are searching, find the Help screens and look for information on wildcards, truncation, or word variation.

Synonyms – Think of synonyms or related phrases that are relevant for your search. For example, if the topic is capital punishment, you could also search for death penalty. If you are searching for the emotional stress related to hurricanes, you could structure your search like this:

Stress or depression or anxiety


Hurricanes or storms or cyclones

If you find a relevant article, look for additional synonyms or related phrases to expand your search.

Field Searching – A field is a specified section of an electronic record. Try searching specific fields like Author, Subject, Title, or within Full-Text to either limit or expand your search. A keyword can usually appear in any one of a variety of different fields.

Controlled Vocabulary – Very few databases have a thesaurus, but some use assigned Subject Headings. If the database you are using has either one, it is worth investigating to see how the database groups subjects and uses language. Searching for a Subject Heading is more precise than searching for Keywords.

For More Help:

Be sure to read the Help sections. Many databases have very useful Help resources that can save you time. Information provided by Help should tell you the rules and how to apply them. Checking Help is particularly useful to determine what the truncation/wildcard symbols are; if the resource uses “AND” or “+” to link terms; and whether the system interprets multiple terms as a phrase, connects them with AND, or connects them with OR.