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Planning a Search Strategy: Search tips

Search tips

The tips below are essential when adding your search terms and will greatly increase your search results.


To increase your search terms and help ensure all relevant articles are retrieved use truncation, often denoted by the asterisk *

Truncating a term will look for all words which start with the term you've entered, so is particularly good for variant endings and plurals. Examples as below:

teen* will find teen, teens, teenager, teenagers

technolog* will find technology, technologies, technologist, technologists

manag* will find manage, manages, managing, managerial, management

Proximity search

Many databases have other ways of narrowing and focussing your search, e.g. proximity searching. This enables you to specify that two search words should be near to each other, or a certain distance from each other, in the results that you find. 

This is sometimes done by using the operators NEAR (often N), Adjacent (ADJ) or SAME (e.g. in Web of Science). 

In some databases you can specify the distance between search words, e.g. in the Ebsco databases (such as Academic Search Premier, Business Source Premier and Cinahl) teenager N3 facebook will find results in which these two search words appear within three words of each other, in any order.

You can also do a 'with' search in these databases so teenager W3 facebook will find results in which these two search words appear within three words of each other, but in the order specified.



Consider all the synonyms and related terms for the keywords you are searching for, e.g.

teenager, teen, teens, youth, young adult, juvenile, adolescent

Phrase searching

Many databases (including the library catalogue) automatically insert an AND in between your search terms, so if you enter teenagers social media it will look for articles which include the terms teenagers AND social AND media.

To ensure only the phrase 'social media' is searched, you can enclose this within double quotation marks, i.e. "social media".

Using phrase searching will help narrow your search and make it more specific.


You can also use wildcards to improve your search, see examples below.

Different databases use different symbols so make sure you check the Help pages on each resource.

On the Ebsco datababases, ? is used to replace one character and the # to replace one or more.

colo#r will find color as well as colour

behavio#r will find behavior as well as behavior

wom?n will find woman or women