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Develop Your Search Strategy before you Begin

Most databases are not able to search in whole sentence form.  You may find some sources by searching that way, but  your results will not be complete.

Keywords and Synonyms

Use the most important (or "key") words describing your topic, not full sentences and not your research question. 

Once you've determined your KEYWORDS, be sure to also list synonyms for those words in case you need to adjust your search strategy.

Example 1how is global warming affecting animals in the Arctic?

Keywords: global warming and animals and arctic                       (Synonyms: climate change and wildlife and polar)

Example 2: does the NFL need to change it's concussion protocols?

Keywords: NFL and concussion and protocols                            (Synonyms: professional football and brain injury and rules)

Example 3: do military drone strikes violate human rights?

Keywords:  drones and military and human rights                      (Synonyms: remote-controlled weapons and government and civil rights)


Look for synonyms at

OR, AND, NOT - Connectors

  • OR - expands your options and broadens your search; you would use OR for synonyms
  • AND - combines terms or ideas and narrows your search; you would use AND for terms that do not need to be listed next to each other in the results--for example, diabetes AND treatment
  • NOT - limits your search by excluding certain terms or ideas; you would use for words that are common with your topic that you DO NOT want to see--for example, diabetes NOT obesity

Your search, using these connectors, LOOKS like this:

Boolean Search Operators - Instructional Technology

Keywords and Synonyms

Phrases - Connectors

Use quotation marks around a two word phrase to find those keywords in the order you typed them in and next to each other instead of separately.


"human rights"

will find sources that mention human rights, whereas

human and rights

will find you sources that mention both words, regardless of whether they are next to each other in the text.

Quotation marks turn a phrase into a single word, for searching purposes.