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Catalogs, Databases, and Search Engines

Search Tricks

Truncation and Wildcards

You can use truncation and wildcards in many databases, catalogs, and search engines. Each database may have its own truncation or wildcard symbols, but the following are common:

  • The asterisk (*) can usually stand in for 1 or more letters at the end of a word. For example, if you want to find materials that use the words technology, technologies, or technological, try this: technolog*
  • The question mark (?) can usually stand in for 1 letter in the middle of a word. For example, if you want to find materials that use the words woman, women, or womyn, try this: wom?n
  • Use quotes (") to search for an exact phrase. For example, if you want to find materials that use the phrase body image, try this: "body image"

Google has its own fantastic set of symbols. To construct a really good advanced search in Google, see the Google Search Basics page. (I'm a big fan of Google's version of the wildcard. In Google, the asterisk can stand in for an entire word. Google's example: Obama voted * on the * bill.)  

Boolean Operators

  • Use AND between search terms to join concepts and get specific results. For example: internet AND privacy
  • Use OR between search terms to join synonyms and get more results. For example: internet OR web OR online
  • Use parentheses to clarify your search. For example: (internet OR web OR online) AND privacy

Note: You can use OR in Google. You just have to capitalize it.

Find Background Information

Often, you'll discover the right level of focus as you begin your research. Encyclopedias and dictionaries can be a great place to start this research. Use these resources to get topic ideas or for background information.

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