Skip to Main Content

Information Literacy : Online Search Tips

A Guide to Information Literacy: What is it? Where can I go to get answers about it? Why does it matter?

Truncation and Wildcard Symbols

Use truncation and wildcard symbols to broaden your search results. Truncation allows you to find various word endings and spellings of a root word.  Truncation and wildcard symbols may vary from database to database (*, #, ?, !).
•Truncation = *
immigrat* (immigrate, immigrating, immigration, etc.)
•Wildcard = #, ?
wom#n (woman, women)
colo#r (color, colour)
ne?t (neat, nest, next - - but not net)

Boolean Search Operators

Nesting with Parentheses

Use parentheses to narrow or expand your search results.  First, keywords and operators within parentheses are processed. Next, keywords and operators outside parentheses are processed.

* (baseball or football) AND (artificial intelligence)


Per the Z39.50 standard, Boolean operators AND and NOT are processed before OR if parentheses are not used.

* Baseball OR football AND artificial intelligence will be processed as baseball OR (football AND artificial intelligence).


Proximity Operators

Use proximity operators to narrow your search results.  Proximity operators are placed between keywords.  They require the keywords to be within (W) or near (N) a specified number of words from each other.
Proximity = W for within; N for near
tax W8 reform
•W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
(baseball or football) (N5) (artificial intelligence)
•N5 finds the words if they are within five words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.

Search Limiters

To further improve your search results, consider 
  • adding additional required keywords
  • search for an exact match by putting the term or phrase in quotes
  • limiting by full text, peer reviewed, date published, language, etc.
  • searching additional databases
  • looking at the database's help pages
  • asking a librarian for help

Limiters will vary from database to database.


Reviewing Search Results

When reviewing database search results:

  • Review the titles of the papers found in the search results.
  • Read the abstracts of the titles that are highly relevant to your research.
  • View the citations of the abstracts that are still highly relevant to your research.
  • Read and evaluate the papers to confirm that are still highly relevant to your research.
  • Read the entire paper before you cite the paper as source in your paper, on your research poster, in your proposal, etc.

Reading a Paper

When reading a paper, you do not need to always read it in page number order the first time you read it. After reading the title, abstract, and introduction, you may want to focus on your greatest interests (observations, explanations, experiments; materials and methods; results; discussion; acknowledgements, etc.) next.

If it is a paper that you plan to cite, read the entire paper for comprehension and understanding.

Keep track of the full citation and any associated links (e-journal article link, e-book chapter link, DOI, EBSCO Permalink, etc.). Consider using a citation management tool that matches your needs.

Tips for Finding Additional Search Results

If you find a highly relevant paper and need to find additional highly relevant papers, the following techniques may prove helpful.

  • Conduct a search using different combinations of the search terms, codes, and search limiters.
  • Conduct a search using new search terms, codes, and search limiters that were found by reviewing relevant papers and database records of highly relevant papers.
  • Review the bibliography / cited references of each highly relevant paper.
  • Conduct an author search for each author listed in the highly relevant papers.
  • Conduct a journal search for each journal title where the highly relevant papers were found.
  • Conduct a cited reference search in Web of Science for the citation to each highly relevant paper. 
  • Searching in additional library databases. Vendor how-to tutorial are available to help you search these databases better.
  • Do not hesitate to ask a librarian for help!