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Searching for Sources

Techniques for Better Searches

This page provides many different techniques and strategies to help you find what you need in library databases. Library databases work differently than search engines like Google. The tips on this page will make you a more effective searcher when using the library's resources. These techniques can be used in any library database.

Video: Refining Search Results


Boolean Operators

Boolean operators define the relationship between search terms.

  • AND searches for all of the search terms. The AND operator limits the search because the sources in the results must contain both terms.
  • OR searches for either of the search terms. The OR operator expands the search because the sources in the results can contain either term.
  • NOT excludes the search term immediately after the NOT operator. The NOT operator limits the search because the sources in the results cannot include the term following the word NOT.

diabetes AND children = articles about children with diabetes
diabetes OR children = articles about either diabetes or children 
diabetes NOT children = articles about diabetes, but excludes articles mentioning children with diabetes

Here is a series of Venn diagrams to show you how the Boolean operators limit or expand searches.

Boolean Operators are AND, OR, NOT and are represented using Venn Diagrams. For AND the overlapping area of circles A and B is shaded in. For OR both circles A and B are completely shaded in. For NOT the circle A is shaded in only where it is not overlapped by circle B.

Image attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0 by Cecelia Vetter

Tutorial: Searching with Boolean Operators


Tutorial: Searching with Truncation and Wild Card


Proximity Operators

Proximity Searching in EBSCO:

Proximity searching is an advanced search strategy to search for two or more words that occur within a certain number of words from each other. The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The number cannot exceed 255.

The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:

  • Near Operator (N): N5 finds the words if they are a maximum of five words apart from one another, regardless of the order in which they appear. For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that have a maximum of five words between the beginning and ending terms, that would match tax reform as well as tax that has been submitted for reform.

  • Within Operator (W): W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another, in the order in which you entered them. For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.

In addition, multiple terms can be used on either side of the operator. See the following examples:

  • (tax OR tariff) N5 reform
  • oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)
  • (baseball OR football OR basketball) N5 (teams OR players)

Note: Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) are not case sensitive unless they have been configured as such by your institution's administrator.