Search Strategies: Databases

Trocaire College Libraries

Search Tips

Use the Search Tips found in this guide to help you find articles in our databases that you need for your research and projects. You can also use these tips for better results when searching the Internet!

Keywords: What are they and why use them?

Keywords are the KEY to a successful research project.

Think of all the words that could describe the main points or elements of your research project. This is called “brainstorming”. This is a crucial step in doing research. Take the time, 5-10 minutes, and think of all of best words or phrases to describe what you are seeking.

If you do this step it will save you time later, trust us, we know!

Once you have your keywords or phrases, you will be able to enter them in the databases to find appropriate and useful sources for your project.

Keywords are critical for effective database searching. They...

  • help you focus on a topic.
  • help you focus your research.
  • eliminate extraneous articles.
  • are better for Internet searching too


  • Use academic or professional language when searching databases. This will result in scholarly materials on your topic.
  • Some databases have a Thesaurus, use it if your keyword or phrases are not bringing the desired results. Ask a librarian for help using a thesaurus.
  • Avoid using words such as "effect", "affect", "study" "research", etc. These are not necessary when searching a database.
  • Put quotations around a phrase, so that the database searches the phrase and not the words separately:

    • "climate change" will result in the exact phrase being searched

  • Using an * (asterisk): can be used to search for words with similar stems:

    • teen* will find teen, teens, teenage, teenager, etc.

  • Using an ? (question mark): can be used to search for similarly spelled words:

    • wom?n will find woman and women.

    • Search engines such as Google tend to use # (hashtag) symbol.

Boolean Operators: What are they and why use them?

These are the words that will help you combine, widen or limit your search in a database.

  • Use AND to combine your keywords. Your keywords or phrases will appear in the results:

    • "climate change" AND "Lake Erie" will result in material that contains both terms.

  • Use OR to search for words that can be used interchangeably:

    • Neonate OR newborn OR infant, etc.

  • Use NOT to eliminate a word or phrase from the search results:

    • dolphins NOT "Miami dolphins"

Ask a librarian for more information on how to use keywords and boolean operators.

Created June 2020