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2.2 Search boosters

Search boosters help make your keywords more powerful in finding information. Some types of search boosters include:

 

Boolean operators (connector words)

Use a Boolean operator (AND, OR, NOT) to connect your keywords. Each operator will combine your keywords in a different way that allows you to refine your search to include or exclude specific terms.

The operators tell the search engine which keywords you want to search for. The search engine will only show you results that match your keyword combinations.

  • AND will only return results containing both (or all) keywords, and finds the smallest number of results.
  • OR will return results for either keyword, and finds the largest number of results.
  • NOT excludes any keyword that follows the operator e.g. apples NOT oranges will find results where only apples is mentioned.

Note: Some databases may use symbols rather than the words:  + for AND, | for OR, and - for NOT. Check the HELP section in each database for details.

 

Truncation and wildcards

Truncation and Wildcards find variations of a keyword.

Truncation (usually an asterisk) will allow the search engine to find different endings for a keyword, including plurals. Please the asterisk at the end of the word, or part word.

If you type enjoy* into the search engine, you will find results with the following keywords: enjoy, enjoys, enjoyed, enjoying

However, you need to be careful where you place the asterisk, as it may find inappropriate keywords. This example is a search for happ* to find alternate endings for the word happy.

Appropriate keywords Inappropriate keywords

happy
happily
happiest
happiness

happen
happened
happening
happed

 

A Wildcard (usually a question mark or exclamation mark) allows the search engine to find different spellings of a keyword. It may be a different letter, or a missing letter.

If you type wom?n into the search engine, you will find results with either women or woman.

Wildcards are useful for spelling variations between UK English and US English.

If you type organi?e into the search engine, you will find results with either organise or organize.

Note: Some databases may not offer truncation and wildcards, or may use different symbols. Check the HELP section in each database for details.

 

Phrase searching

Phrase searching is used to search for a phrase by placing double quotation marks around the phrase.

If you type "anti-doping trials" into the search engine, you will only find results where the keywords appear in that exact order, including the hyphen and plural.

Note: Some databases may not offer phrase searching, or may use different symbols or punctuation. Check the HELP section of each database for details.

 

Field searching

A field refers to a part of the record for each individual article or book. Field searching is used to find keywords in a specific field of a record.

All resources have an author, title, publisher and date of publication, and some records will also contain subject headings. Journal articles will also have a journal title and may include an abstract.

A book from the Library Catalogue

  • Title
  • Author
  • Publisher and Date
  • Subject
Click to enlarge this image

A journal article from a Library Database

  • Title
  • Author
  • Journal Title and Date
  • Subject
  • Abstract
Click to enlarge this image

If you search for TITLE(sport) you will only find results where the keyword sport appears in the title of the article.

Some databases have specific subject headings and may include a thesaurus as well to help you.

Note: Some databases may not offer field searching, so check the HELP section in each database for details.

 

Limiters 

Limiters restrict a search to particular criteria. Common limiters include date, language, format, place and author.

A search may look like this: "women athletes" AND (publication date) 1998-2000 AND (language) English AND Australia

This search will find information about women athletes in Australia written in English between 1998 and 2000.

Note: Limiters vary depending on the database being searched, so check the HELP section in each database for details.

 

Brackets (or nesting)

Brackets allow you to treat a combination of keywords as a group. You would do this if you want to combine groups using Boolean Operators.

to show the order in which the search equation should be executed.

eg (women AND sport) AND (media NOT radio)

This would mean that the search facility would look for:

  • results that contain both the words women and sport
  • results that contain the word media that does not mention radio

 

The search engines will then combine both the search groups with AND.

So the final list of search results will include information on women, sport and the media, but would not include any information that contains the keyword radio.

Note: The availability of brackets (may be called "nesting") depends on the database being searched, so check the HELP section in each database.

 

Proximity operators

Proximity Operators allow you to search for two or more keywords, and find results where those keywords are close to each other.

WITHIN/(number) is used to make sure that the keywords are no more than a certain number of words apart.
e.g. women WITHIN/3 sport will find the word women where it is only three or less words away from the word sport.

NEAR is used to find keywords in the same sentence.
e.g. women NEAR sport will find the word women in the same sentence as the word sport.

PRE/(number) is used to make sure that one keyword comes before another keyword.
e.g. women pre/3 sport will find the word women where is it three or less words before the word sport.

ADJ is used to make sure that the words are next to each other.
e.g. women ADJ sport will find the phrases sport women or women sport.

Note: Some databases do not offer proximity searching, so check the HELP section in each database for details.

 

Using help

Different databases use different search boosters, and may also use different symbols for search boosters such as truncation.

To check which search boosters are available, and what format they are in, check the HELP section for each database you wish to search.

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