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Search effectively

Search tools

Databases and other search engines (including Google Scholar) use algorithms and logic to match your search enquiry (i.e. keywords) to existing sources (e.g. books and journal articles). This page explains the tools available to help you create a better search strategy to find relevant sources.

Phrase searching

Phrase searching will narrow your search results to find only those sources where your exact phrase is used. Place double quotation marks around two or more words, ensuring the words appear in the correct order.

Examples: "mental health"
"young adult"
"self esteem"


Truncation widens your search results to find alternative endings to a word. Place an asterisk after the root of the word.

Examples: enjoy* = enjoy, enjoys, enjoyment, enjoying, enjoyable
adolescen* = adolescent, adolescents, adolescence


Using a wildcard will widen your search results to find alternative spellings for a word. Use a question mark in place of the letter that changes with different spellings.

Examples: organi?e = organise, organize
labo?r = labor, labour
wom?n = woman, women

Boolean Operator - OR

To find alternative terms that mean the same thing, place OR (all caps) between the terms.

Example: teens OR teenager* OR "young adults" OR youth OR adolescen*

Boolean Operator - AND

Use AND (all caps) between the different topics of your search to narrow your search results.

Example: "young adults" AND "mental health" AND sports


Place your string of alternative terms inside brackets to "nest" that part of the search together. 

Example: (teens OR teenager* OR "young adults" OR youth OR adolescen*)

Searching effectively

Duration 3:04

Play the search strategy game

Field searching

Fields examplesYou can select where to search for your keywords (field searching):

  • Author
  • Title
  • Abstract (highly recommended)
  • Subject (only for database-specified subject searches)
  • Publisher or Journal or Source
  • All Text or Full Text (will search the entire article, and may find your keywords in a reference list)
  • Anywhere (will search all fields listed above)


Search options

An Advanced Search includes limiters, (tick box or drop down menu), that let you to limit your search by:

  • Full Text
  • Peer Reviewed articles
  • Scholarly or Academic articles
  • Date range
  • Language
  • Location

Most databases provide a Help Tool or Search Tips.

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