Skip to main content

Research Process: Getting Started: B. Search Strategies

A guide to assist students in conducting research using the wide variety of information sources available to them.

Search Strategies

There are three basic search strategies that can be used when trying to locate information:

  • Keyword search: Quick way to retrieve a lot of results. Results will include every single record that contains your search term in any of the record fields searched. 
  • Subject search: Looks for your search terms in the subject heading category. Subject headings are not determined through natural language but are chosen from predetermined lists of acceptable subject headings.
  • Boolean logic: Frequently the basis behind an "advanced search" feature in a search tool. Once you have brainstormed your key concepts, you are ready to create a Boolean search. Boolean logic enables you to state relationships between the search terms using the following "operators":
    • And

      • Only records with BOTH search terms will be retrieved

      • The AND operator is the most commonly used operator

    • Or

      • Used to search synonymous terms or related concepts

      • This search will retrieve records where EITHER of the search terms is present, resulting in a larger number of hits

    • Not

      • Used to exclude a term or concept from your search

      • The NOT operator is the least-used operator 

Different search tools (e.g., catalogs, databases, web) have different searching rules and features. You should always read directions and help screens before using a tool that is new to you.

Search Tip

In a lot of search tools, including SUMMON and many databases, there are options for refining your search built into the results screens. Once you conduct your initial search, you can narrow down the results by subject, publication date, source type, and other features.