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Basic Search Strategies

Whether you're using OneSearch or another library database, learning a few key search strategies will make your search process more effective. When using search engines like Google, you can type in whole questions or long phrases. But library databases are designed differently and require adjusting our search process. Use the following strategies to find the information most relevant to your research!

Search Terms

First, brainstorm the main search terms related to your topic. Library database works best when you use nouns as search terms—eliminate any articles (of, to, is, the), adjectives (best, worst, good, bad), and most verbs (affect, change, alter, support).

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are used to tell databases to search for exact phrases. This is especially useful for topics that can't be boiled down to a single word.

  • "positive psychology"
  • "seasonal affective disorder"

This is also helpful when searching for the title of a specific source.

  • "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders"
  • "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"


venn diagram representing using AND in a search string

You'll then connect your search terms using AND to create a search string you can use in a database search box.

When you connect search terms using AND, the database finds items that contain all your search terms. Search strings using AND narrow our search and make it more specific to our topic. 

  • cognition AND dogs
  • "seasonal affective disorder" AND therapy
  • mindfulness AND adolescents AND anxiety

Most of the time, you'll want to use search strings with at least two search terms, in order to find the research most relevant to your needs. But be aware, search strings work best with no more than three or four search terms—otherwise, your search will be too narrow and the database might not find anything.

Advanced Search Strategies

Most searching in library databases can be accomplished with AND and quotation marks. But sometimes, you might need to use the following advanced search strategies to make more nuanced searches.

OR and Parenthesis

venn diagram representing using OR in a search string

OR tells the database to find items that contain at least one of two or three words. This helps us search for synonyms or closely related terms, without having to search for each term separately—saving you time!

Often, OR is used in conjunction with parenthesis. OR on its own often finds too many results, so the parentheses help keep the database from bringing up off-topic resources.

  • (anxiety OR depression) AND "therapy animal"
  • ("American Indian" OR "Native American") AND "mental health"
  • ("wilderness therapy" OR "adventure therapy") AND safety
  • (Prozac OR fluoxetine) AND "side effects"


Using truncation is a great way to find synonyms or different variations of a word, so you don't have to type in every version of a word you want the database to look for. Start with the beginning part of a term, then add an asterisk:

  • therap*

The * lets the database know you want all words that start with those letters. So, this search would bring up: therapy, therapist, therapeutic, and therapeutical. Be careful with this one! If you shorten a word too early (thera*), you'll get unexpected results (like Theranos—the name of a shady corporation!).


venn diagram representing using NOT in a search string

You may want to exclude certain concepts from your research. This can be done using the word NOT. Search strings using NOT help you narrow your search and find results that are more relevant to your topic.

  • addiction AND treatment NOT gambling
  • students AND stress NOT fracture
  • "video games" AND learning NOT aggression

Get Help

If you're struggling with your searches, contact a librarian! We can help you brainstorm relevant keywords and help you format search strings for effective use in library databases.

Citation Chaining

Citation chaining (sometimes called citation mining) is a research technique that uses reference lists and citations to expand your search. Chaining is especially helpful when you're having a hard time finding enough articles on your topic. 

To get started:

  1. When you find an article that is relevant to your research, find the references list at the end of the article. These sources were gathered by the author(s) as part of their research process and often include great articles that you wouldn't find using databases alone. 
  2. Review the titles on the reference list for relevant sources. 
  3. If you find a potentially useful source, copy the title and then paste it into OneSearch (on the library's homepage) to see if we have a copy. If it doesn't come up, you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.
  4. Keep in mind sources on the reference list are older than the article you started with, so check to ensure they fit your assignment requirements.

Advanced Chaining with Google Scholar

Citation chaining using an article's reference list involves moving backwards along a path of references, but we can use Google Scholar to look forward and see who has built on someone's work since it was published. Look up a relevant article on Google Scholar, and underneath the entry in Google Scholar, you will see a link that says Cited by [#] if an article, book, or book chapter has been cited since it was published. This another great way to find additional sources on your topic!

Google Scholar screenshot

To get started:

  1. Go to Google Scholar.
  2. Search for the title of a relevant article you've found.
  3. Click on the Cited by link, underneath the article's entry.
  4. Review the list of results.
  5. If you find an article you'd like to read but there isn't a PDF available, check for it in OneSearch or use Interlibrary Loan.


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Angela Beatie
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FL115, Fulton Library

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