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Where Do I Start?

A basic guide to resources and services addressing the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the library.


See the full Search Tips & Tricks guide on selecting keywords to search, using Boolean connectors, and taking advantage of advanced techniques such as wildcard keys and truncation. Listed below are some quick reference tips and guidelines.

Keyword Searching

Most Information searches start with keywords.

Keywords allow you to search with natural language, describing a topic in words that you would actually use.

When choosing keywords you should choose words that are most likely to appear in an article or book that would relate to your topic. 

You should avoid words that are too common (likely to pull up too many different subjects) or too specific (not used often enough to match many results).

Choosing Keywords

If you are having trouble choosing keywords for your topic, it can help to write out a topic statement. Once you have your statement, pull out the most important words.  Hint* look at the nouns.

For example:

Topic Statement: The effect of rising gas prices on the economy of the united states.

Keywords: Gas prices, economy, united states


Synonyms are other words that have the same meaning as your keywords; think of words or terms that may be used interchangeably. You may want to add some of these terms to your keyword list. Include alternate spellings or forms of your keywords. What other words or terms are related?


Gas, gasoline, fuel, fossil fuels

United States, America, USA

Prices, cost, expense

economy, finances, economic, fiscal, inflation


Phrase Searching

When you are using a term that is made up of more than one word, it may be necessary to enter the term as a phrase. The most common way of doing this is to surround the set of terms with quotation marks. For example: "fossil fuel." This tells the catalog, database, or search engine that you are only interested in articles where these words appear together and in the correct order. This can also be helpful if you are looking for an exact title or a personal name. 

Boolean Connectors

  • AND - 

    AND tells the computer to return only results with both of the terms entered. 

    For example, you might search for:

    Cats AND Dogs

    This would only show you articles or books that have both words.

    It would not show you results that have only one of the terms.

    AND makes your results set smaller, but more specific.

  • OR - 

    OR tells the computer or database that you want results with either of a pair of terms. It does not require that both terms are present. 

    A good way to use OR is with synonyms or words with similar enough meanings that they are interchangeable.


    Gasoline OR Petrol

    cost OR price

    OR makes your results set larger.

  • NOT - 

    NOT allows you to exclude a term that is irrelevant to your search. Not is probably the Boolean term that is used the least often.


    Saturn NOT Planet (want Saturn cars, not astronomy)

    Not can be tricky; it makes your results list smaller and more specific by eliminating what you don't want. If you repeatedly retrieve unrelated articles, you might look for a term that you can use NOT with to exclude them from later searches.

  • Combining Boolean Operators (Putting Your Terms Together)

    Once you have a good command of simple Boolean connections, you can use them together to create efficient and powerful search strings. Some databases will have forms that let you build those relationships, in others you will have to use () to clarify your intent. Here are some examples:

    (gas OR petrol) AND economy

    ("Climate Change" OR "Greenhouse effect) AND consequences

Wildcards & Truncation

  • Wildcards

    A wildcard is a symbol that tells the computer to accept any letter in that place. If you are not sure how to spell a term or there are alternate spellings, the wildcard will allow you to retrieve results. The most common symbol for this is a ?, but it can very from database to database. You can check the help menu to see if wildcards work in any given platform.


    gr?y retrieves gray or grey (alternate spellings)

    wom?n retrieves woman or women (irregular plural)

  • Truncation

    Truncation literally means "cutting short." It allows you to put in part of a word and retrieve all the forms of the word that start with the characters you have entered. The most common symbol used for truncation is an *, but like the wildcard it may be different in different databases. Unlike the wildcard (which replaces a single letter and can be used in the middle or end of a word), Truncation can allow any number of letters and only works at the end of the word.


    archit* retrieves architecture or architect

    psycho* retireves psychosis, psychotic, etc.

    Be careful not to over use truncation; many times if you cut a word too short you will get words that don't actually relate.


    consum* retrieves consumer, consumes, consumerism


    cons* retrieves all those words along with constipation, consult, constituent... etc.