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ZSR Library

FYS: How Hot, Flat, and Crowded Are We?: Search Strategies

Keywords and Boolean Operators

Most library databases can be searched with a mix of keywords and Boolean operators.


Keywords are words or phrases that represent the main ideas of your research topic. You will need to use keywords when you search library databases because most library databases are not equipped to understand the sentences or partial sentences that way search engines like Google can.

To generate keywords, break down your research topic or question into its main ideas and key concepts. Then generate a list of synonyms and like ideas. 

Example Research Question: "How was tourism impacted the physical and cultural sustainability of Venice?"

Example keywords:

tourism  sustainability Venice
ecotourism  environment canals
development conservation sea level
sustainable tourism carbon footprint Italy

Searching Library Databases with Keywords

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators

In most library databases, keywords need to be separated by Boolean operators. The three main Boolean operators are ANDOR, and NOT.

  • AND narrows your search because it requires the search results to contain all your keywords
    • Ex. "secondhand smoking" AND cancer
  • OR broadens your search because it will retrieve any search results with your keywords
    • Ex. teenagers OR adolescents 
  • NOT narrows your search. because it eliminates a keyword from your search results
    • Ex. Washington NOT D.C. 

Other Tips

  • Phrase Searching involves putting quotes around phrases to ensure the database keeps the words together as a phrase when it searches 
    • Ex. "video games" instead of video games
  • Truncation is a search technique that broadens your search to include various word endings. It uses an asterik* 
    • Ex. child* would give your results for child, children, and childhood

Putting It Together

Examples of library database searches using both keywords and Boolean operators:

  • "social media" AND teen* AND "mental health"
  • "social media" AND (teen* OR adolescent*)
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