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POS 2510 Research Methods: Search Techniques

Guide to support Clark's Research Methods course.

Search Techniques


  • All terms must be found
  • Focus and narrow results
  • Ex. hypothermia AND lower temperature AND febrile


  • Connect similar concepts
  • Broaden results
  • Ex. heart attack OR myocardial infarction 


  • Exclude terms from results
  • Narrow results
  • Ex: dementia NOT Alzheimer's

The video below explains these these operators and provides more examples. (4 min)

Exact phrases

  • Search exact phrase that is within the quotation marks " "
  • Ex: "music performance" will find results with those words in that order, but won't find similar phrases, like "performance of music"


  • Find all forms of the root word that ends in an asterisk *
  • Ex: teen* will find the words teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, teenaged, etc.
    • Tip: The Truncation symbol (*) may also be used between words to match any word. For example, a midsummer * dream will return results that contain the phrase, a midsummer night’s dream.

Grouping terms

  • Group search terms together using parentheses ( )
  • Much like the order of operations in math, parentheses tell the database what order to do the search in
  • Ex: (juvenile OR young adult) AND fiction

The video below covers these modifiers with additional examples. (4 min)

Wildcards are represented by a question mark ? or a pound sign #.

To use the ? wildcard, enter your search terms and replace each unknown character with a ?. The database finds all citations of that word with the ? replaced by a letter. 

For example, type ne?t to find all citations containing neat, nest or next. Most databases do not find net because the wildcard replaces a single character.  

Tip: When searching for a title that ends in a question mark, the symbol should be removed from the search in order to ensure results will be returned.

To use the # wildcard, enter your search terms, adding the # in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character. The database finds all citations of the word that appear with or without the extra character.

For example, type colo#r to find all citations containing color or colour.

Use a proximity search to search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other in the databases. Proximity searching is used with a keyword or Boolean search.

The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The proximity operator is placed between the words you're searching.

Near Operator (N)

N2 finds the words if they are within two words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.

For example, literature N2 review will find results that match "literature review" as well as "review of the literature."

Within Operator (W)

In the following example, W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.

For example, tax W8 reform to find results that would match "tax reform" but would not match "reform of income tax."

A literature review is a critical summary of research on a topic. In other words, it explains the ways scholars have addressed a topic. It is prepared to put a research problem in context or to summarize existing evidence. Because it is a critical summary it should address useful approaches of research as well as problems with the research. 

Tip: Use the Advanced Search feature to add the phrase literature n5 review* to your keyword(s). This search looks for the words literature, review, reviewer, reviews, reviewing within 5 words of each other in any order.