Library Information Guide - Fort Wayne

Constructing Searches

Most research today is conducted using online databases. Even looking for a physical book will usually require a search through an online catalog. This page gives some guidelines for creating successful searches.

Key things to remember:

  • Use key words and phrases, not sentences.
  • Think of synonyms for the key words.
  • Pay attention to spelling.
  • Use connectors.
  • Use wildcards.

Key Words and Phrases

Use Key Words and Phrases, not Sentences:

This is the most important rule of searching. Think of the words that are most important to your topic.

For example, instead of searching for:

Laws for teenagers using cellphones while driving

use the words:

laws, cell phones, teen drivers

This way, your search doesn't get hung up on the generic words like for, using, and while.


Think of Synonyms for the Key Words:

It can be useful to think of a couple of synonyms for key words. Using the example above, you could use “mobile phones” as well as “cell phones.”

Slang is often a problem in searches. For example, “car” will get different results than “automobile” in many databases.

Having trouble thinking of some synonyms? You can always try a thesaurus:


Another common problem is misspelled words. If you are not getting any results for a search with a common keyword, you should check the spelling.

The easiest way to do this is to go to Google and do a search on the word the way you think it should be spelled. Google will give you a “We think you mean…” message.

Here are some other ways to check your spelling:


Connectors are used to link your key words together.

  • AND will limit a search and should be used to link different things or concepts.
  • OR expands your search and should be used to link similar things.
  • NOT can be used to exclude words that are muddying your search.

Here is a sample search using AND, OR, and NOT. Notice how the number of results increases when OR is used and decreases when NOT is used.

Laws Laws Laws
Cell phones Cell phones
Mobile Phones
Cell phones
Mobile Phones
Teenage Drivers Teenage Drivers Teenage Drivers
    NOT Alcohol
234 Results 312 Results 274 Results

Advanced Research Tools: Boolean Operators

These connectors are also called "Boolean Operators." This video segment provides a few more ideas on how to use them.


A wildcard is a placeholder that can be a letter or letters, like a joker in cards. For example, “teen*” would mean teen, teens, teenagers, teenage, and so on.

Some wildcards:

  • Ebscohost uses *
  • Ivy Cat uses ?

Advanced Research Tools: Symbols

This video segment discusses wildcards, along with some other symbols you might see in web searches, and some more ways to use connectors or boolean operators.


Drop-down connectors in EBSCOhost.

Constructing a search by typing connectors in Gale.

These strategies will help you search in the different databases to which Ivy Tech subscribes.

Some provide you with drop-down boxes to select connectors, but others might require you to type the connectors yourself.


You will need to be logged in to MyIvy to access these databases from off campus. For help using these databases, check out the "How do I find articles?" page.